What’s next for U.S., North Korea? Wheel­ing, deal­ing for peace If Kim, Trump meet, it will — maybe to es­cape scan­dals be a be­gin­ning, not the end

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By Don­ald Kirk By Ralph A. Cossa

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SEOUL — There is noth­ing like a meet­ing with a dic­ta­tor to get out of prob­lems at home. The visit of Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo to Py­ongyang, just as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was jet­ti­son­ing the Iran deal, shows Trump’s ea­ger­ness to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and come up with a states­man-like so­lu­tion to the con­fronta­tion on the Korean Penin­sula.

As­sum­ing Trump re­ally does see Kim, could there be any bet­ter way to dis­tract at­ten­tion from all the prob­lems be­set­ting him in Wash­ing­ton? For a few blessed days, maybe more, he would be free of the threat of in­ter­ro­ga­tion by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and all the ques­tions about his lawyer Michael Cohen.

He might not even have to worry about the next head­lines, and sala­cious jokes, about the porn star Stormy Daniels and seances with Rus­sian women while get­ting to know Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. All that hap­pened be­fore he ran for pres­i­dent, but his past is catch­ing up with him just as he would like to be “mak­ing Amer­ica great again.”

With Trump in the same room with Kim, all they need is to es­cape with a joint dec­la­ra­tion that saves face for both. Kim can say, OK, we’ll be­gin to get rid of our nu­clear pro­gram while you with­draw your troops. Never mind if nei­ther re­ally hap­pens. Trump is look­ing for head­lines, maybe a few quotes and col­umns about what a great choice he’d make for the No­bel Peace Prize.

Think of the wave of pop­u­lar sup­port he might cre­ate if he came home with a real deal with the North Kore­ans af­ter his pre­de­ces­sors in the White House had failed. How could all those colum­nists and aca­demics who hate him carry on with such im­punity against his claim to have put out a fire that threat­ened only half a year ago to ex­plode into a re­gional con­fla­gra­tion?

There’s no guar­an­tee, of course, that Kim will co­op­er­ate. What if Kim stonewalls Trump’s de­mands for dump­ing his nukes and mis­siles? Or what if he says, I’ll be­gin do­ing it af­ter the United Na­tions re­moves sanc­tions and you be­gin with­draw­ing your troops? One rea­son Trump sent Pom­peo to Py­ongyang again, on his sec­ond trip, is to try to reach a deal well in ad­vance, to avoid any sur­prises.

By get­ting tough with Iran, un­der­cut­ting the deal so care­fully wrought in con­cert with ma­jor Euro­pean pow­ers, Trump is send­ing a warn­ing to North Korea. Hav­ing de­nounced the Iran deal as re­ally ter­ri­ble, he’s toss­ing the whole thing just as Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has long de­manded. He’s telling the North Kore­ans, so close to Ira­ni­ans in wheel­ing and deal­ing on nu­clear tech­nol­ogy and mis­siles, he won’t com­pro­mise with them ei­ther.

The fu­ture, though, may not work out so sim­ply. What if the Ira­ni­ans now go back to de­vel­op­ing the means to fab­ri­cate nu­clear war­heads on which they stopped work un­der the terms of the deal? Would Trump con­sider a pre-emp­tive strike on their nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties, as he once threat­ened North Korea? And do the Is­raelis re­ally want con­flict in the Mid­dle East to es­ca­late to an en­tirely new level?

Al­ways, how­ever, Trump is play­ing to the crowd in Wash­ing­ton. On Korea, he may still choose to min­gle firm­ness with flex­i­bil­ity. Hav­ing made good on his prom­ises to walk out of the agree­ment with Iran, he may opt for an ap­pear­ance of reach­ing a deal for last­ing peace in Korea.

For Trump, his fu­ture in of­fice de­pends on his abil­ity to have it both ways, prov­ing his states­man-like qual­i­ties to enough of his loyal voter base to en­sure his safety against im­peach­ment and the sur­vival of his pres­i­dency. He’s count­ing on Kim to help him weather the storm. COMMENTARY |

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has gone from in­ter­na­tional pariah to sud­denly be­come ev­ery­one’s most sought-af­ter com­pan­ion in a few short months. Since his New Year’s olive branch to the South, he has met twice with Chinese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and, most dra­mat­i­cally, with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, while set­ting in mo­tion prepa­ra­tions for a truly historic first ever sum­mit be­tween a North Korean leader and a sit­ting U.S. pres­i­dent.

Pres­i­dent Xi had pre­vi­ously re­fused to meet with Kim, re­port­edly out of frus­tra­tion and an­noy­ance with the North Korean leader’s ac­tions. Sud­denly, it ap­peared as if Xi was play­ing catch-up to avoid be­ing marginal­ized in the emerg­ing peace of­fen­sive. Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Abe Shinzo quickly be­gan sig­nal­ing his own will­ing­ness (ea­ger­ness?) to meet with Kim; can Vladimir Putin be far be­hind?

Pres­i­dent Trump has re­ceived — and taken — a great deal of credit in stim­u­lat­ing the North’s diplo­matic over­tures (although calls for award­ing him the No­bel Peace Prize are incredibly pre­ma­ture) and there is no doubt his “fire and fury” threats and “ex­treme pres­sure” campaign con­trib­uted to the cur­rent flurry of diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity. But, did threats of war or in­creas­ingly tighter sanc­tions frighten Kim to the ta­ble? Or, did the prospect of con­flict so scare Moon that he of­fered in­cen­tives to Kim to co­op­er­ate? Or is this all part of a clever North Korean ploy, with Moon and Trump ea­gerly tak­ing the bait? I fear the lat­ter, but only time will tell. The North Kore­ans, of course, firmly re­ject the idea that they have been fright­ened or bul­lied into mak­ing their diplo­matic over­tures; Py­ongyang sees it­self en­ter­ing into the diplo­matic arena from a po­si­tion of strength, not weak­ness, due to its “pow­er­ful de­ter­rent.” Skep­tics (my­self in­cluded) also see the as­ser­tion in the Moon-Kim Pan­munjom Dec­la­ra­tion that “South and North Korea con­firmed the com­mon goal of re­al­iz­ing, through com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, a nu­clear-free Korean Penin­sula,” not as an ac­cep­tance of the U.S. de­mand for CVID — com­plete, ver­i­fi­able, ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion — but as a North Korean state­ment that Korea Penin­sula de­nu­cle­ariza­tion first re­quires global dis­ar­ma­ment; i.e., that it would be will­ing to en­ter into global dis­ar­ma­ment talks with the U.S., which would le­git­imize the its sta­tus as a nu­clear weapon state.

Skep­ti­cism aside, the Moon-Kim sum­mit pro­vides cause for cau­tious op­ti­mism. One largely over­looked state­ment in the Pan­munjom Dec­la­ra­tion seemed par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant:

“South and North Korea agreed to ac­tively pur­sue tri­lat­eral meet­ings in­volv­ing the two Koreas and the United States, or quadri­lat­eral meet­ings in­volv­ing the two Koreas, the United States and China with a view to declar­ing an end to the War, turn­ing the ar­mistice into a peace treaty, and es­tab­lish­ing a per­ma­nent and solid peace regime.”

In the past, the North has ar­gued that any peace treaty should be be­tween the U.S. and North Korea, or at most the U.S., North Korea and China. South Korea was al­ways the odd man out. This state­ment in­di­cates that Py­ongyang is now ready to ne­go­ti­ate a peace accord with Wash­ing­ton and Seoul. This is an en­cour­ag­ing, po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant break­through.

As the Trump-Kim sum­mit ap­proaches, the only thing rising higher than ex­pec­ta­tions about the out­come are anx­i­eties that it could re­sult in dis­as­ter, ei­ther with Trump walk­ing out in anger (leav­ing few op­tions short of more ex­treme pres­sure and/or mil­i­tary ac­tion) or be­ing tricked into what seems like a good deal by the North, whose real goal is not de­nu­cle­ariza­tion but a lift­ing of sanc­tions and the gain­ing of in­ter­na­tional cred­i­bil­ity and sta­tus as a mem­ber of the nu­clear weapons club.

Given the lead­er­ship sys­tem in ef­fect in Py­ongyang and Trump’s mer­cu­rial ten­den­cies, it is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial that both lead­ers agree on gen­eral prin­ci­ples and ob­jec­tives if there is ever go­ing to be real prospects for peace on the penin­sula.

While more tra­di­tional sum­mits usu­ally sig­nal the end of a diplo­matic process, the Trump-Kim meet­ing, if and when it oc­curs, will at best merely sig­nal the be­gin­ning.

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