July 19, 2017 13:15
The White House has voiced opposition to President Moon Jae-in's overtures to North Korea in language anyone can understand. It is rare for the U.S. to voice such immediate opposition to an offer by South Korea to hold military and Red Cross talks with North Korea as White House spokesman Sean Spicer's remark on Monday, "I think the president has made clear in the past with respect that any type of conditions that would have to be met are clearly far away from where we are now." The U.S. State Department and Defense Department refused to answer any questions on the rash and disruptive proposal. The U.S. says it is ready to talk with North Korea only if the North takes steps to scrap its nuclear weapons, and this is not the time. The Japanese government also publicly voiced its opposition.
The U.S. position is exactly the same as in a joint statement by Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump after their summit on June 30, where the two leaders clearly stated that the door to talks with North Korea remains open "under the right conditions." The U.S. believes the conditions are not right, especially so soon after the North launched an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii.
Inter-Korean dialogue has only ever weakened the impact of UN sanctions and resulted in North Korea recovering from crisis after crisis. Moon's offer of talks on Monday was completely inappropriate, and now it is predictably causing discord between Cheong Wa Dae and the White House, less than three weeks after the bilateral summit. Moon and Trump were an odd match from the start, but the discord has erupted sooner than expected. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must be squealing with delight, but this is no laughing matter.
Moon has at least confessed that South Korea "does not have the strength to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff" on its own. In that case he should be ensuring efficient cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo and try to get China aboard, instead of dashing off on harebrained adventures on his own.
Moon needs to become a lot more careful in assessing the timing of inter-Korean dialogue and should have coordinated the rash offer with Washington beforehand. But he appears to be in a dire rush. Does he now think negotiations about the North Korean nuclear crisis can be rushed through like other key campaign pledges such as the minimum wage hike or closures of nuclear power plants here? Any discord between Seoul and Washington ends up benefiting only Kim Jong-un.
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