South Korea and the U.S. are miles apart when it comes to their approach to North Korea after the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. In a telephone call with U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday, President Moon Jae-in voiced hopes that "the continued momentum of inter-Korean dialogue contributes to lasting peace on the Korean peninsula." Moon added that the upcoming visit to South Korea by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence would be an "important turning point."
But Pence was quoted by a staffer as saying, "We are seeing an unprecedented level of international cooperation on the maximum pressure strategy targeting the Kim [Jong-un] regime, and the vice president will make clear that this maximum pressure campaign will only intensify." Trump, who met eight North Korean defectors prior to his phone call with Moon, said, "We think the Olympics will go very nicely and after that, who knows?"
In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review published by the Pentagon on Saturday, the number of times North Korea is mentioned rose from four in the previous report in 2010 to 50. A senior U.S. official told South Korean reporters prior to Trump's meeting with North Korean defectors that the president is considering "both military and non-military options." But South Korean government officials are no longer talking about the nuclear threat at all. In a briefing after the phone call, the White House said the two leaders discussed human rights in North Korea, but Cheong Wa dae did not mention that part. Early last month, the White House said in a press briefing that Moon and Trump agreed to put maximum pressure on North Korea, and Cheong Wa Dae did not mention that either, stressing instead Trump's support for inter-Korean dialogue.
Inter-Korean talks should lead to dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang about denuclearization. Seoul must not worry about agitating Kim Jong-un along the way but make him realize that avoiding it is a losing strategy. Kim must be made to understand that he cannot use Moon to bypass international sanctions. In a telephone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, Trump thanked him for maintaining maximum pressure on North Korea. Moon failed to earn the same thanks.
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