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Prepare for all scenarios

Oct 09,2017
Washington has been sending mixed messages about North Korea. After U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went public about pursuing dialogue with Pyongyang through multiple channels, President Donald Trump immediately contradicted him, saying, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man [his nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un]. Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done.”

In another tweet, Trump wrote: “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years. Why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail,” to make it clearer that he was not happy about cutting a deal with Pyongyang through dialogue.

In meeting President Xi Jinping in Beijing ahead of Trump’s planned state visit, Tillerson said Washington was communicating with Pyongyang through two to three channels and offering dialogue. But the rebuke from Trump completely overthrew the State Department’s diplomatic gesture. It is worrisome that Washington is divided in the means to solve the North Korean nuclear threat. The public scorn and ridicule of the country’s top diplomat bodes badly for Washington’s image and also undermines the status of Tillerson on the international stage as his post may not be secure if he falls out with the president.

By claiming that past ways had all failed, Trump also may be suggesting he would be seeking a different method to tame Pyongyang. He was critical that Washington gained nothing from decades of negotiations with North Korea. His comment — “We’ll do what has to be done” — leaves room for imagination. Uncle Sam won’t be all giving and nice and wants Pyongyang to be ready when it comes out for talks. At the same time, he was sending a message to China that it must not ease its hard-line stance on North Korea.

In devising contingency plans, we must prepare for all possible scenarios. We must be fully informed about the progress in talks between Washington and Pyongyang. We must stop Washington from cutting a deal with Pyongyang by recognizing it as a nuclear state in return for a freeze on intercontinental ballistic missile development. In that case, the nuclear threat would be entirely our problem.

We must strengthen our alliance with Washington so that we are not pushed aside while the United States, China, and Russia separately talk to Pyongyang. Seoul must match its policy with Washington. North Korea is showing signs of another provocation later this month. A war must be avoided at all costs, but we must be prepared for the worst scenario.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 3, Page 26