July 20, 2018 13:57
U.S. President Donald Trump has recently repeatedly said there is all the time in the world for denuclearization talks with North Korea. He told reporters on Tuesday, "we have no time limit. We have no speed limit. Discussions are ongoing, and they're going very, very well. We have no rush for speed." He also told Republican lawmakers at the White House that the U.S.' relationship with North Korea is "very good."
Yet when negotiations with the North began, Trump stressed that time was of the essence. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set a two-year deadline for North Korea's denuclearization, while national security adviser John Bolton said early this month that the U.S. had a one-year plan. Until just before the historic U.S.-North Korea summit on June 12, the State Department said it did not intend to let North Korea buy time through drawn-out talks. Even Trump himself said past presidents failed due to the protracted negotiations. Now he is saying just the opposite.
This scenario was widely anticipated when the joint agreement at the summit contained nothing of substance. The White House appears to have put the nuclear weapons issue lower on the list and is instead focused on bringing back the remains of American soldiers who died in the Korean War. The principle of "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearization, which the U.S. had stuck to for the past decade, has been deeply compromised. Giving up on the deadline will give North Korea a chance to become a nuclear-armed nation. The North is predictably dragging its heels, and China's sanctions against the North are weakening. The international community will end up having little choice but to accept North Korea as a nuclear power.
Trump is focused on the U.S. mid-term elections in November since he could face impeachment if the Republicans lose that race. Now that his hope of using a breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear crisis to his advantage is fading, Trump is trying to package the sputtering deal into something else. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to be in control now.
Kim has succeeded in cornering Trump and now looks poised to demand an end to sanctions. China has virtually resumed business as usual with North Korea and Russia is turning a blind eye to the North's coal exports that directly violate UN Security Council resolutions. The South Korean government, which should be blowing the whistle on such offenses, is twiddling its thumbs. Cargo ships that are blacklisted by the UNSC entered South Korean ports 24 times carrying North Korean coal disguised as Russian product. It is even trying to revise laws to make it easier to resume economic exchanges with the North and make it tougher to scrap them.
No government around the world seems interested in putting a brakes on the current developments, which North Korea is exploiting to realize its nuclear ambitions. By the time Seoul gets around to realizing this, the situation may be beyond control.
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