July 13, 2018 13:29
Officers from the U.S. and North Korea were scheduled to meet in the border truce village of Panmunjom on Thursday to discuss the handover of the remains of U.S. soldiers who died in the 1950-53 Korean War, but the North Koreans failed to show up. This is unimaginable elsewhere in international diplomacy. U.S. President Donald Trump was very proud of winning a pledge from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at their summit in June to hand over the remains, and it was one of very few concrete measures in an agreement they signed. Soon afterwards the U.S. sent about 100 coffins to Panmunjom to put the remains into, but they have been sitting there ever since.
When the two leaders warmly shook hands in Singapore a month ago, it appeared that a resolution to the North Korean nuclear standoff and normalization of bilateral ties would progress quickly. But the agreement was terribly vague, and Trump ended up jettisoning a huge bargaining chip by voluntarily announcing an end to joint military exercises with South Korea, which always terrify North Korea. Trump went on to gabble that he really wants to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea altogether, even though their presence has served as a powerful deterrent to North Korean aggression. The return of the soldiers' remains, by contrast, had really nothing to do with the nuclear problem.
Follow-up talks that were scheduled a week after the summit were finally held after three weeks of delay, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was not even able to meet Kim when he flew to Pyongyang. He put a brave face on his failure to make any progress to the press, but the North still accused him of "gangster-like" tactics. Yet Trump carries on as if nothing is wrong, babbling about an Elton John CD he wants to give Kim.
The latest snub raised suspicions whether the two sides had even properly agreed to meet on Thursday. The North will of course only feel emboldened to behave badly. Faced with mid-term elections in November, Trump has no choice but to put the most positive construction on these debacles, and Kim now has China's backing and appears to fear nothing. The South Korean government must wake up before rushing to announce an imminent era of eternal peace and sunshine.
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