Kim Jong Un Warns Trump He May Take ‘New Way’ Unless US Removes Sanctions

President Trump was quick to celebrate peace on the Korean Peninsula after his summit meeting with Kim Jong Un last year. Since then, however, progress has been mixed as North Korea refrained from nuclear testing and held high-level talks with the South but also failed to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Now, in his New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un is warning President Trump that unless the United States “takes genuine measures for building trust” the North may return to its old ways.

In the speech, reported by Politico, Kim noted steps that he had taken toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula saying that he agreed “that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them, and we have taken various practical measures” to fulfill this promise. He then challenged President Trump with two words: “Your turn.”

What Kim wants is illustrated by a statement issued in December through North Korean state media. “When we refer to the Korean peninsula, they include both the area of the DPRK and the area of South Korea where aggression troops including the nuclear weapons of the U.S. are deployed,” the statement said and then continued, “When we refer to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it, therefore, means removing all elements of nuclear threats from the areas of both the north and the south of Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean peninsula is targeted.” The statement called on the US to lift the sanctions on North Korea as well as for “completely removing the nuclear threats of the U.S. to the DPRK.”

Essentially, Kim is telling President Trump that the North Korean position on denuclearization is unchanged. The North rejects unilateral denuclearization and wants the US to remove its nuclear weapons from the Korean theater. The US removed its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, but in his speech, Kim said that “strategic assets,” which North Korea often understands to include anti-ballistic missile systems as well as submarines and aircraft carriers, “should no longer be permitted” in or near the Korean Peninsula.

Kim also wants to be rewarded for the actions that he has already taken over the past year. His price for the détente with South Korea is the removal of US sanctions.

Kim also sought to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea. While President Trump is pushing South Korea to based on the peninsula, Kim encouraged the South to participate in several bilateral projects that exclude the United States.

In the speech, Kim warned that North Korea “might find ourselves in a situation where we have no other choice but to find a new way” if the US did not uphold its end of the bargain. While Kim was not specific about what “new way” the North might take, most observers doubt that it would involve a resumption of nuclear testing.

“One thing is clear: Kim is not going to return to any sort of posture where the US or its allies would consider a military attack, and that means no missile or nuclear tests for the foreseeable future,” Harry Kazianis of the Washington-based Centre for the National Interest told the South China Morning Post.

Ruediger Frank, an analyst at 38 North, believes that the entreaties to South Korean President Moon provide a clue as to what Kim’s “new way” would be. The speech was a message to Donald Trump, he writes, saying, “You are not our only option for security and economic development. If you refuse to be cooperative, we will ignore you and turn to China. Oh, and we will take South Korea along.”

Kazianis agreed, “Kim can present Trump with a choice: Either play ball with me on a negotiated nuclear settlement and reduce sanctions or I will go to China for help and get the economic development I want and keep my nukes.”

President Trump’s trade war now places him in an awkward position with respect to Korea. President Trump signed a new trade deal with South Korea last year that limits South Korean steel and aluminum exports to the US. The trade spat with China means that Trump now has less leverage with the Chinese against the North Koreans. The three geographical neighbors may become closer trading partners at the expense of US influence in the region.

If North Korea can pull the South into China’s orbit, it would be a major blow to the United States. South Korea is one of America’s largest trading partners in terms of both imports and exports. The nation is also home to 15 US military bases that provide a counterbalance to China as well as protecting South Korea from Northern aggression.

President Trump responded to Kim’s challenge with a New Year’s Day tweet, saying, “I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1080240049780940800

Trump Says This Is The ‘Calm Before The Storm’

Speaking before a dinner with military leaders and their spouses on Thursday night, President Trump said that the gathering may represent “the calm before the storm.” The comment occurred at the White House State Dining Room before a group of reporters.

Bloomberg reports that the president asks the reporters, “You guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”

When asked what he meant, President Trump answered, “You’ll find out.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump had said that his Administration was focused on “challenges that we really should have taken care of a long time ago, like North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, ISIS, and the revisionist powers that threaten our interests all around the world.”

At that point, the president made what seemed to be a warning to North Korea. “We cannot allow this dictatorship to threaten our nation or our allies with unimaginable loss of life,” Trump said. “We will do what we must do to prevent that from happening. And it will be done, if necessary — believe me.”

The president’s comments may be the latest in a series of attempts to convince the North Korean regime that Trump is unhinged. Over the past few months, President Trump has engaged in a rhetorical war of words with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in which the two men seemingly try to one-up each other’s martial boasts. Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump’s nickname for the North Korean leader.

Axios recently reported that President Trump had urged his staff to portray him as “crazy” as a negotiating tactic with South Korea. According to the report, Trump told diplomats pressing for a renegotiation of the US trade pact with South Korea, “This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute.”

The tactic appears to have worked with the South Koreans. On Thursday, South Korea agreed to amend the trade deal.

 

Switzerland Will Mediate With North Korea. What Should We Ask For?

North Korea has an arsenal of nuclear weapons. They’ve likely got a thermonuclear weapon, or at least an enhanced “atomic bomb” that can produce a yield of at least 100kt. The bomb that America exploded over Hiroshima was 15kt.

Putting this into perspective, a big chunk of America’s nuclear inventory is the W76 thermonuclear warhead, which has a yield of 100kt. The W76 weighs something less than 362 lbs, which is the combined weight of the warhead plus its re-entry vehicle. (Source.)

North Korea also has demonstrated the capability for an extended-range IRBM or possibly an ICBM. If the North Koreans can successfully fit their warhead into the re-entry package for their missile, that’s a credible threat. Of course, we don’t know if they can (assuredly, we know more than our government is telling, however) until they do it.

Kim Jong-un has repeatedly said his nuclear program is non-negotiable. We can assume this means the missile program is also non-negotiable. So what would the United States tell Switzerland to ask for in mediation?

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is set on ratcheting up diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea.

She told the Security Council Monday that Kim is “begging for war,” and urged the adoption of the strongest sanctions possible against North Korea.

“Enough is enough,” Haley said. “We have taken an incremental approach, and despite the best of intentions, it has not worked.”

The Chinese Ambassador to the UN, Liu Jieyi, stopped short of giving thought to a military option.

“The peninsula issue must be resolved peacefully,” he said. “China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula.”

This seems like an impasse. Anything other than China’s tacit approval of a military threat with the UN’s imprimatur seems to acknowledge the inevitability of a nuclear, ICBM-equipped North Korea.

It would appear this is the starting point of any mediation through Switzerland. North Korea gets to keep its nuclear deterrent in exchange for…what?

Here’s some thoughts on that–which has been unthinkable until now.

A real peace, an end to armistice

First on the list has to be an end to the armistice signed in 1953. The armistice preserves a technical state of war between North and South Korea. A formal peace treaty recognizing both countries, their common ethnic heritage, and the importance of international cooperation has to be a must.

This means giving up on reunification except through political means.

Demilitarization

If real peace is to be had, then the threat of conventional war needs to be reduced significantly. The North must agree to remove its Sword of Damocles hanging over Seoul and enter into arms reduction talks with South Korea for peace to have a chance.

As part of this discussion, America has to be willing to pull our troops out of South Korea. There’s no need to defend South Korea from attack if North Korea abandons its hopes for conquest.

America’s withdrawal, China’s accountability

If we leave the Kims in charge of North Korea, armed with a realistic nuclear deterrent (to America), then China has to step up as the adult in the room.

We ask for normalized relations between North and South Korea, with a permanent treaty, and America leaves the peninsula. However, only China can enforce that treaty. So if North Korea breaks it, and China backs the North, everything goes back to the way it was…and quickly.

The risk

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Switzerland negotiates some form of all-of-the-above between North and South Korea, and China accepts. What are the risks?

The risk is that Kim never really intended to keep the treaty, and never truly complies with demilitarization, while the U.S. leaves South Korea. Then China backs Kim by covering up the deception.

Now the U.S. can’t get back to South Korea without facing serious charges of its own destabilizing influence. In fact, the North could threaten to lob an ICBM at us if we set foot on the peninsula.

The real question we must ask is if we can trust Kim to be a rational actor, who has no designs on forced reunification, or if this is would be another fruitless ruse.

Would discussions progress indefinitely while Kim continues to build his nuclear arsenal? Would the North suddenly disengage at the last minute, claiming some minor event as a trigger?

Camp David and Oslo

We’ve all seen this before: the Middle East discussions between Israel and the Palestinians has moved tantalizingly close to “peace” (Camp David, Oslo) only to have the entire thing thrown in the trash by the latest Palestinian leader who really wants Israel destroyed, not peace.

If Kim is like the Palestinians, there’s no good solution, and a military conflict seems inevitable. If Kim simply wants to be left alone, the unthinkable (a nuclear North Korea, left alone at peace with its neighbor) could be possible.

Personally, I think Kim has been raised from birth to believe his own bulls*it. I believe he wants to rule–or for his successors to rule–over one Korean people. I believe, like the Palestinians, he will never accept true peace, even a peace secured by his own nuclear deterrent.

I believe we must stop Kim by other means, which will be extremely dangerous. I honestly hope I’m wrong, but we can’t afford the price of being right.

Also published at The New Americana.

North Korean Propaganda Video Threatens Destruction Of White House

North Korea has released a propaganda video promising the destruction of the White House, and threatening that “the enemy to be destroyed is in our sights.”

The film, complete with cheesy production values and music straight out of a 70s action flick, includes an aircraft carrier in crosshairs and the threat that,  “We will show you what a strong country that leads the world in nuclear and missile technology is capable of.”

The release of the video comes on the heels of escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States and South Korea, both of whom promised “swift punitive measures” against the Communist country.  The video made its debut on Thursday, just a few days after another similar video played before a concert in Pyongyang with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in attendance.

North Korea is known for its bombastic rhetoric and exaggerated propaganda, but it has ramped up its output in recent weeks as tensions have risen.

During a concert held April 16 and attended by Kim, a video was broadcast showing missiles arcing over the Pacific and leaving a U.S. city in flames, followed by images of a burning American flag and a cemetery filled with white crosses.

Similar videos showing attacks on U.S. cities were broadcast last year and in 2013.

American officials have promised to prepare a military response to North Korea, along with sanctions against the country. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson will arrive at the Korean Peninsula this weekend, and the submarine USS Michigan arrived off the coast of South Korea earlier this week.

South Korea is working with both the United States and United Nations to put the heat on its neighbors to the north.

“The two sides pledged that in the event of additional strategic provocation by the North to swiftly take punitive measures including a new UN Security Council resolution that are unbearable for the North,” the South’s presidential office said, following the call.

China has also offered to help pressure Pyongyang to stand down and back off its rhetoric, but officials in Beijing are unhappy about the THAAD missile defense system the U.S. has begun installing in South Korea.

Stay tuned as we keep our eyes on the growing tensions in this part of Asia.

Pence Visits Korean DMZ to Demonstrate U.S. Resolve

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates North and South Korea.  While at the DMZ he made a series of remarks aimed at North Korea in order to reiterate American resolve in “denuclearization of  this peninsula and for the long term prosperity and freedom of the people of South Korea.”  He noted that although the U.S. seeks a peaceful resolution to the issues, “all options are on the table” and “the era of strategic patience is over.”

Indeed, the U.S. has been ramping up pressure on North Korea lately in a bid to encourage its leadership to tone down its rhetoric and cease its nuclear program and weapons tests.  The U.S. has sent the U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the region (both China and Russia have deployed “intelligence-gathering” ships to the area in response in order to monitor American movements).  The U.S. has also been encouraging China to help reign in North Korea, which it appears to be doing, having previously stopped coal shipments from North Korea to China and recently deploying troops along their border with North Korea.

This pressure may be having an effect.  North Korea had threatened to test a nuclear weapon over the weekend, but instead simply attempted to launch a medium-range missile, which failed.  However, North Korean leadership (Kim Jong-un, in particular) appears to base its legitimacy on the strength of its belligerence towards the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.  How they will respond as the U.S. and China work to tamp down this belligerence remains to be seen.