Trump, Kim could find way back to diplo­macy

If will­ing, U.S., North Korean lead­ers could take th­ese steps away from nu­clear precipice

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Jim Michaels @jim­michaels USA TO­DAY

The prospect of a cat­a­strophic con­flict on the Korean Peninsula is so alarm­ing that U.S. al­lies and China urged Pres­i­dent Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to soften their rhetoric and start a di­a­logue to find a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to their stand­off.

Sev­eral steps are pos­si­ble to go that diplo­matic route, in­clud­ing a halt to in­cen­di­ary threats, recog­ni­tion that North Korea is a nu­cle­ar­armed state and a freeze on fur­ther nu­clear weapons and mis­sile tests by Kim’s regime, ex­perts on the cri­sis say.

None of those would be easy, as Trump un­der­scored Thurs­day in declar­ing that his warn­ing to un­leash “fire and fury” on North Korea per­haps “wasn’t tough enough.”

His harsh com­ments trig­gered the big­gest one-day drop in stocks since May.

But Trump said he was open to ne­go­ti­a­tions to try to bridge a huge gap be­tween his goal — that Kim give up his nu­clear weapons — and the North Korean dic­ta­tor’s in­sis­tence on re­tain­ing them as an in­sur­ance pol­icy against be­ing over­thrown by the United States.

Pres­i­dents Bill Clin­ton and Ge­orge W. Bush tried diplo­macy with North Korea, but the regime re­neged on agree­ments to curb its weapons pro­grams.

Although diplo­macy is risky, an­a­lysts said the two sides can make th­ese moves to try to go down that road again and avoid mil­i­tary con­flict: Lower the rhetoric.

“The more we threaten, the worse the sit­u­a­tion is go­ing to get,” said Jenny Town, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the U.S.-Korea In­sti­tute at Johns Hop­kins School of Ad­vanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Nei­ther side has backed off the flame-throw­ing talk.

“North Korea bet­ter get their act to­gether, or they’re go­ing to be in trou­ble like few na­tions ever have been in trou­ble in this world,” Trump said Thurs­day.

Ear­lier Thurs­day, North Korea is­sued its own threats, say­ing it was de­vel­op­ing plans to fire mis­siles near Guam, a U.S. ter­ri­tory in the Pa­cific with a ma­jor U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence.

Ac­knowl­edge North Korea as a nu­clear power. This may be the tough­est step to take for the United States.

“Po­lit­i­cally, we can’t and we won’t rec­og­nize them as a nu­clear power,” said David Maxwell, a re­tired Army colonel who is as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies.

In re­al­ity, North Korea al---

ready is. Kim has dozens of nu­clear weapons, and his regime has ad­vanced its mis­sile tech­nol­ogy dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years to be ca­pa­ble of strik­ing U.S. cities.

“We don’t think hav­ing a di­a­logue where the North Kore­ans come to the ta­ble as­sum­ing they’re go­ing to main­tain their nu­clear weapons is pro­duc­tive,” Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son has said.

There are pos­si­ble open­ings. North Korea would prob­a­bly par­tic­i­pate in dis­cus­sions to halt or re­duce its nu­clear weapons stock­pile even if it wouldn’t agree ini­tially to aban­don the pro­gram, Maxwell said.

Sus­pend joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. Once they be­gan talks, the United States and North Korea might agree on other is­sues. The North has long op­posed joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises be­tween the United States and its ally South Korea, where 28,000 U.S. troops are sta­tioned.

The United States has shown a will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate over the ex­er­cises, although its con­ces­sion did not lead to a diplo­matic break­through. Team Spirit, a joint U.S.-Korean ex­er­cise, was can­celed for a time in the 1990s in an ef­fort to get North Korea to halt its nu­clear weapons pro­gram and al­low in-

“We don’t think hav­ing a di­a­logue where the North Kore­ans come to the ta­ble as­sum­ing they’re go­ing to main­tain their nu­clear weapons is pro­duc­tive.” Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son

ter­na­tional in­spec­tors.

Ease sanc­tions. The United States could sus­pend some sanc­tions on North Korea if the regime took ac­tion to curb its nu­clear pro­gram. Eco­nomic sanc­tions over more than a decade have done lit­tle to halt the North’s weapons de­vel­op­ment pro­grams.

An­a­lysts said the eco­nomic pres­sure is not work­ing, mainly be­cause China, North Korea’s largest trad­ing part­ner, has not been vig­or­ous in en­forc­ing the sanc­tions. The North’s econ­omy grew 3.9% last year over the pre­vi­ous year, the largest in­crease since 1999, ac­cord­ing to South Korea’s cen­tral bank.

“There is al­ways a diplo­matic so­lu­tion,” Town said. “It’s just a mat­ter of if there is a po­lit­i­cal will to get past the op­po­si­tion to it.”

AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Pres­i­dent Trump

AP

Kim Jong Un

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