US seeks to as­suage Asian al­lies af­ter North Korea sum­mit

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World - WORLD 16

THE United States and its Asian al­lies worked Thurs­day to pa­per over any sem­blance of dis­agree­ment over Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s con­ces­sion to Kim Jong Un that the US will halt mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea, with Trump’s top diplo­mat in­sist­ing the pres­i­dent hadn’t backed down from his firm line on North Korea’s nukes.

US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, meet­ing with top South Korean and Ja­panese diplo­mats, put a more sober spin on sev­eral moves by Trump af­ter his sum­mit with Kim that had fu­eled un­ease in Wash­ing­ton, Tokyo and Seoul. He said Trump’s curious claim that the North’s nu­clear threat was over was is­sued with “eyes wide open,” and brushed off a North Korean staterun me­dia re­port sug­gest­ing Trump would grant con­ces­sions even be­fore the North fully rids it­self of nu­clear weapons.

“We’re go­ing to get de­nu­cle­ariza­tion,” Pom­peo said in the South Korean cap­i­tal. “Only then will there be re­lief from the sanc­tions.”

Pom­peo flew from Seoul to China’s cap­i­tal, Bei­jing, later Thurs­day for a meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, whose coun­try is be­lieved to wield con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence with North Korea as its chief ally and eco­nomic life­line. Pom­peo was also due to meet with top diplo­mats and hold a joint news con­fer­ence with For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi.

At a daily brief­ing, for­eign min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang re­it­er­ated China’s sup­port for a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment, while also point­ing to an even­tual lifting of United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil eco­nomic sanc­tions.

“We be­lieve that the sanc­tions them­selves are not the end,” Geng said.

China has been praised by Trump for ramp­ing up eco­nomic pres­sure on the North that the US be­lieves helped coax Kim to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

On the joint Us-south Korea drills that Trump — af­ter meet­ing Kim — said would be ter­mi­nated, Pom­peo em­pha­sized a key caveat: If the mer­cu­rial North Korean leader stops ne­go­ti­at­ing in good faith, the “war games” will be back on.

The words of re­as­sur­ance from Pom­peo came as diplo­macy con­tin­ued at an in­tense pace af­ter Tues­day’s sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore, the first be­tween a sit­ting Amer­i­can pres­i­dent and North Korea’s leader in six decades of hos­til­ity. In the vil­lage of Pan­munjom along the North-south border, the ri­val Koreas on Thurs­day held their first high­level mil­i­tary talks since 2007, fo­cused on re­duc­ing ten­sions across their heav­ily for­ti­fied border.

Yet even as US and South Korean of­fi­cials sought to par­lay the mo­men­tum from the dra­matic sum­mit into more progress on the nu­clear is­sue, there were per­sis­tent ques­tions about whether Trump had given away too much in re­turn for too lit­tle.

Trump’s an­nounce­ment min­utes af­ter the sum­mit’s con­clu­sion that he would halt the “provoca­tive” joint mil­i­tary drills were a shock to South Korea and caught much of the US mil­i­tary off guard, too. Pyongyang has long sought an end to the ex­er­cises it con­sid­ers re­hearsals for an in­va­sion, but US treaty al­lies Ja­pan and South Korea view them as crit­i­cal el­e­ments of their own na­tional se­cu­rity.

So Pom­peo had some ex­plain­ing to do as he trav­eled to Seoul to brief the al­lies on what tran­spired in Sin­ga­pore.

In public, at least, South Korea’s leader cast the sum­mit’s out­come as pos­i­tive dur­ing a short meet­ing with Pom­peo at the Blue House, South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial palace. Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, an avowed sup­porter of en­gage­ment with North Korea, called it “a truly his­toric feat” that had “moved us from the era of hos­til­ity to­wards the era of di­a­logue, of peace and pros­per­ity.”

Still, there were signs as Pom­peo met later with the top Ja­panese and South Korean diplo­mats that con­cerns about the freeze had not been fully re­solved. South Korean For­eign Min­is­ter Kang Kyung-wha, speak­ing in Korean, told re­porters af­ter­ward that the mil­i­tary drills is­sue “was not dis­cussed in depth.”

“This is a mat­ter that mil­i­tary of­fi­cials from South Korea and the United States will have to dis­cuss fur­ther and co­or­di­nate,” Kang said.

The US has sta­tioned com­bat troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War and has used them in a va­ri­ety of drills. The next sched­uled ma­jor ex­er­cise, in­volv­ing tens of thou­sands of troops, nor­mally would be held in Au­gust.

The sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore did mark a re­duc­tion in ten­sions — a sea change from last fall, when North Korea was con­duct­ing nu­clear and mis­sile tests, and Trump and Kim were trad­ing threats and in­sults that stoked fears of war.

Kim is now promis­ing to work to­ward a de­nu­cle­arized Korean Penin­sula and state me­dia her­alded the meet­ing as vic­to­ri­ous, with photos of Kim stand­ing side-by-side with Trump on the world stage splashed across news­pa­pers in Pyongyang. On Thurs­day, North Kore­ans fi­nally got a glimpse of video of Trump and Kim to­gether, as official Korean Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion broad­cast the first footage of Kim’s trip to Sin­ga­pore.

Trump seemed equally ec­static. As he landed Wed­nes­day in Wash­ing­ton fol­low­ing the sum­mit, he de­clared on Twit­ter that Amer­ica and the world can “sleep well tonight.”

“There is no longer a Nu­clear Threat from North Korea,” Trump wrote, even though North Korea has yet to give up any of its fis­sile ma­te­rial, es­ti­mated by in­de­pen­dent ex­perts to be enough for be­tween about a dozen and 60 nu­clear bombs.

Pom­peo re­jected the sug­ges­tion that Trump’s Pollyan­naish as­ser­tion was pre­ma­ture. He said Trump was pro­ceed­ing “with eyes wide open” to the prospect that diplo­macy may fal- ter, and that Trump was merely re­flect­ing the his­toric na­ture of his con­fab with Kim. The Korean War ended in 1953 with­out a peace treaty, leav­ing the United States and North Koreas in a tech­ni­cal state of war.

With the Trump-kim sum­mit con­cluded, the ba­ton was be­ing passed to lower-level US and North Korean of­fi­cials, who Pom­peo said would likely re­sume meet­ing as early as the next week to hash out de­tails of a disarmament deal, sure to be a com­plex and con­tentious process. He said the US was hope­ful North Korea would take “ma­jor” disarmament steps be­fore the end of Trump’s first term in of­fice, which con­cludes in Jan­uary 2021.

In the brief, four-point joint state­ment signed at the sum­mit, North Korea com­mit­ted “to work to­ward com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula” — a prom­ise it has made and re­neged on sev­eral times in the past 25 years. – AP

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