The US is fueling the fire with its response to Korean dialogue

4 January 2018

The US is fueling the fire with its response to Korean dialogue

Image credit: Vborodinova (Pixabay) – CC0

After a year of rising tension on the Korean Peninsular and war seemingly at breaking point, 2018 may signal the beginning of better relations between North and South Korea.

In his new year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said it was vital to lower military tensions in the region and improve ties with the South, adding that there is an opportunity for dialogue. Kim said he was prepared to send a North Korean delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games hosted in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang in February.

In response to this rare show of willingness from the North, South Korea welcomed Kim Jong-un’s words, and offered high-level talks with the regime at a border village on 9 January. South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told reporters, as cited by Yonhap news agency: “We hope that the South and North can sit face to face and discuss the participation of the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Games, as well as other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties.”

North Korea is yet to accept the South’s offer, but a long-closed hotline between the two countries has been reopened at the behest of Mr Kim, and the mere prospect of dialogue is a stark change to the dangerous rhetoric of 2017. However, the US remains unimpressed.

Speaking to the press, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, “We won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

Ms Haley then criticised the diplomatic commerce by saying:

“We consider this to be a very reckless regime. We don’t think we need a Band-Aid, and we don’t think we need to smile and take a picture. We think that we need to have them stop nuclear weapons, and they need to stop it now. So North Korea can talk with anyone they want but the US is not going to recognise it or acknowledge it until they agree to ban the nuclear weapons that they have.”

There is reason to be concerned over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions but, as it stands, there is no substantial dialogue whatsoever. The current approach has produced no significant change, and only reaffirms the DPRK’s belief that the world is against it. That is not to say sanctions are or have been ineffective, but very clearly they alone will not de-escalate and resolve the situation: coercion will only get you part of the way.

It should be mentioned that during Kim Jong-un’s new year address, the North Korean leader boasted about his country’s military capabilities. He said, ‘The US cannot declare war against us. The entire US territories are within our firing range and the nuclear missile button is right there on my desk.”

The US would not be the US if it let threats go unanswered. These words, however, are no different to anything else that both Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump have bandied about before. It is all good and fine to demand North Korea drop its nuclear weapons program, but at the moment it is as useful as yelling at a door in the hope it will open. The aim should be to get North Korea to the table, because only then can successful negotiations start.

What is certain is that the North Korea problem will not be solved and the threat will not diminish if irresponsible and inflammatory reactions from the Trump Administration continue. This is an opportunity to talk, and one would hope Ambassador Haley understood the importance of diplomatic channels, especially since the US has said it would prefer a diplomatic solution above military action.

But never fear: if all diplomatic means are exhausted, the President of the United States of America says his nuclear button is even bigger than Kim’s.