North Korean talks need a cre­ative so­lu­tion

Truro Daily News - - OPINION - Thomas Walkom Thomas Walkom is a Toronto-based colum­nist cov­er­ing pol­i­tics.

The talks be­tween North Korea and the U.S. are stuck. Only a bold move will get them go­ing again.

That these talks even be­gan is a mir­a­cle. For­mally, North Korea has been in a state of war with the U.S. and South Korea since 1950. For most of that pe­riod, re­la­tions have been marked by blus­ter and threat. The so-called demil­i­ta­rized zone be­tween the two Koreas is aptly de­scribed as the most dan­ger­ous bor­der in the world.

So it was re­mark­able when, ear­lier this year, North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jong Un an­nounced that he wanted to talk to the Amer­i­cans.

It was even more re­mark­able when Don­ald Trump agreed. The meet­ing of the two in Sin­ga­pore this sum­mer marked the first time a U.S. pres­i­dent had talked face to face with a North Korean leader.

There is much that can be crit­i­cized about the sum­mit. It did not solve the prob­lem posed by North Korea’s devel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons. In­deed, it did not solve many prob­lems at all.

Trump, as usual, was ex­trav­a­gant and vain­glo­ri­ous in his lan­guage.

But it marked the first time in a gen­er­a­tion that the two sides had talked at such high lev­els. And it set the stage for do­ing some­thing use­ful.

That the sum­mit took place at all is a tes­ta­ment to the three lead­ers in­volved - Kim, Trump and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in.

Kim is not a nice man. He fa­mously kills those who dis­please him, in­clud­ing his rel­a­tives.

But he re­al­izes his coun­try can pros­per eco­nom­i­cally only of it jet­ti­sons its decades-long pol­icy of au­tar­kic self-re­liance and in­stead en­gages the world.

And he is shrewd enough to rec­og­nize the open­ing pro­vided by the elec­tion of Moon and Trump.

Moon is the un­sung hero of the piece. An ad­vo­cate of rap­proche­ment be­tween the two Koreas, he took Kim’s peace gam­bit and ran with it, pro­mot­ing mea­sures to re-open eco­nomic re­la­tions with the North while at the same time re­duc­ing mil­i­tary ten­sions. This week Seoul an­nounced that for the first time in a decade South Korean trains would cross into the North to lay the ground­work for link­ing the two rail sys­tems.

To the dis­may of the Amer­i­cans, Moon has also agreed to dis­arm guard posts along the bor­der with the North.

Fi­nally, there is Trump. His faults are well known. His for­eign pol­icy is far too of­ten based on nar­row Amer­i­can chau­vin­ism. He is a no­to­ri­ous ego­ma­niac.

But he is also a clever strate­gist will­ing to take risks. In the case of North Korea, he ig­nored the ad­vice of his own na­tional se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment and met Kim with­out de­mand­ing pre­con­di­tions.

Now, how­ever, that ini­tial Trumpian bold­ness seems to have dis­si­pated. The se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, in the form of Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, has taken over the Korea file.

In­creas­ingly, the Amer­i­cans and North Kore­ans are lock­ing them­selves into their tra­di­tional stale­mate. The Amer­i­cans won’t agree to any­thing un­til North Korea gives up its nu­clear weapons; the North Kore­ans won’t give up their nu­clear weapons un­til the U.S. ceases to be a mil­i­tary threat.

Trump talks vaguely of an­other meet­ing with Kim. But it has not yet ma­te­ri­al­ized.

Too bad. The world has a unique op­por­tu­nity to get some­thing done here. The stars will not re­main aligned in­def­i­nitely.

In South Korea, Moon’s ap­proval rat­ings are be­gin­ning to dip slightly. Con­ser­va­tives who op­pose his rap­proche­ment with the North are gain­ing ground.

It is not clear that his suc­ces­sor, who­ever that might be, will con­tinue the pol­icy of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion once Moon’s term ends in 2022. Some­thing more is needed to keep the mo­men­tum up. Up to now South Korea has been un­will­ing to ink a peace treaty with the North un­less the U.S. signs as well. Seoul may want to re­con­sider this.

Re­al­is­ti­cally, no one ex­pects North Korea to give up its nu­clear weapons. Re­al­is­ti­cally, no one ex­pects the U.S. to with­draw its troops from South Korea. None of this means, how­ever, that a cre­ative so­lu­tion is im­pos­si­ble. The three lead­ers have al­ready made his­tory. They still have a chance to make more.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.