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Trump’s tough message

Mar 15,2018
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday ordered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to resign and nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo as new head of the State Department. Trump made the decision ahead of an inter-Korean summit in April and his own later summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The drastic change of leaders of U.S. foreign policy before the upcoming summits means that Pompeo, a hardliner on North Korean issues, will take the helm of U.S. diplomacy with the rogue state after replacing Tillerson, a champion of dialogue with Pyongyang.

The former military officer-turned-businessman-turned-politician is notorious for his tough stance on North Korea nearly on par with that of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in the Trump administration. Pompeo argued for regime change in North Korea through extraordinary means such as radiation attacks and even hinted at the possibility of assassinating Kim Jong-un. Pompeo is regarded as a U.S. official most loyal to President Trump among other senior officials.

The stunning decision by Trump strongly suggests that he will turn to an extreme hard-line approach if North Korea does not show sincerity in denuclearization in the lead-up to the summit.

Last October, Pompeo asserted that North Korea will have the capability to launch nuclear attacks on the U.S. mainland within six months. Therefore, if the United States fails to achieve some tangible results in denuclearization talks before the summer at the latest, we can hardly rule out the possibility of the Trump administration taking a military option against the North, not to mention tightening sanctions. As expected, North Korea called for the withdrawal of U.S. Forces from South Korea a day after Trump picked Pompeo to replace Tillerson.

The Moon Jae-in administration must demonstrate wisdom to cope with any unexpected turn of events down the road. In the Trump administration, you can hardly find officials who would dare to put the brakes on their boss’ urge to tame North Korea with “fire and fury.” The Moon administration must closely communicate with the new secretary of state and establish a solid cooperation system through transparent sharing of information on North Korea.

At the same time, the Moon administration must ensure that North Korea understands the meaning of Trump’s nomination of Pompeo and tell them that if Pyongyang does not sincerely approach denuclearization, talks with Washington could actually lead to disaster.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 15, Page 30