- KNS/AFP/Getty Images
- President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday morning that his hard line on North Korea helped open up communications between Seoul and Pyongyang.
- Trump recently taunted Kim Jong Un with nuclear annihilation.
- The war of words may see both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae In may be falling into a clever trap from North Korea.
President Donald Trump seemed to reverse his stance on diplomacy with North Korea, and at the same time double down on his threats of nuclear annihilation in tweets early on Thursday morning.
“With all of the failed ‘experts’ weighing in, does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total “might” against the North. Fools, but talks are a good thing!” Trump tweeted.
Trump caused massive backlash among political pundits who found his most recent exchange with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un frightening and destabilizing.
The exchange consisted of Kim Jong Un delivering a New Years address in which he said the “nuclear button” was always on his desk.
Trump responded by mocking Kim and his “depleted and food starved regime ” and saying his nuclear button was a “much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
But the latest exchange was just the most recent in a series. Since taking office, Trump has taken a decidedly harder line on North Korea, which some experts say could lead to war.
However others point out that North Korea has long been on the path to building nuclear weapons.
While Trump may antagonize Kim, they say, Pyongyang’s mission has not changed, and the regime will not risk a nuclear war that could level the country over derogatory remarks.
But while Trump’s threats don’t actually change much US policy, they may position Trump and Moon Jae In, the president of South Korea, into a trap set by Kim Jong Un.
Trump could be falling into Kim’s trap
- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Unlike North Korea’s previous threats, Pyongyang’s latest round of communication did not just threaten the US.
It also extended an olive branch to South Korea by reopening a phone line and engaging in preliminary talks about including North Korea in South Korea’s upcoming Winter Olympics.
Though Trump gave himself credit for pushing North Korea to talks, the opposite could be true, according to Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center.
“North Korea is quite skillfully playing its diplomacy, reiterating its nuclear capacity on one hand and reaching out to South Korea with a conciliatory tone on the other,” Yun told Business Insider.
While Trump ran on a promise of taking a hard line against global adversaries, Moon campaigned on engaging with and talking to the North Koreans.
So far, only Trump has delivered on his campaign promise, as constant missile tests and provocations have made engagement with Pyongyang untenable even for the liberal Moon.
‘This could potentially create a rift between US and South Korea,” said Yun.
An editorial in South Korea’s JoongAng Daily cautioned that Kim had set a trap for Moon and Trump, and that it may be working.
Kim “is trying to put a wedge between us and the United States and fuel our internal ideological divisions,” the editorial cautioned.
If Kim offers Moon a deal to suspend North Korea’s missile and nuclear testing in exchange for the US and South Korea stopping their military drills (something the US has continually rejected), Moon may be tempted to take it.
But Trump has said many times, loud and clear, that the US will not accept talks with North Korea unless total denuclearization is on the table. For the US, a pause in North Korea’s testing represents a failure to meet its goals.
Trump reversing course on talks?
- REUTERS/Lee Jin Woo
Trump is not known to shy away from good publicity, and his Thursday morning tweets may have tried to indulge in that habit.
Though Trump has previously undercut his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, by saying talks with North Korea were a waste of time, and the White House hastily backpedaled after Tillerson said the US would be willing to talk to Pyongyang without preconditions, Trump on Thursday said “talks are a good thing!”
But Trump has several times changed course on North Korea. In May, Trump said he would be “honored” to talk to Kim. Months later, at the UN General Assembly, he threatened to totally destroy the country.
For now, prospective talks between South and North Korea appear limited to the upcoming Winter Olympics, and not seem to have limited connection to Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang.
But until the talks materialize further, it remains clear that Trump will confront North Korea either verbally or with nuclear weapons if need be, and that he won’t be passed over for good press when something goes his way.