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What will President Trump do about North Korea?

Thursday, November 17, 2016 10:09
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Anything and everything anytime

BBC

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It is unusual, but the North Korean media seems lost for words. The mouthpieces of the Supreme Leader have so far had little to say about the 45th president of the United States of America.

Probably, like most of the rest of the world, Mr Kim and those close to him never assumed it would happen, so the barrage of rhetoric was directed at outgoing President Obama and his presumed successor.

He was a “wicked black monkey” and Hillary Rodham Clinton was a “pensioner going shopping” (the finer points of political correctness not having yet reached the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).

Either way, the United States represented a “completely failed regime” that “will certainly be buried” in the “cesspool of history”.

But that was before the actual winner emerged. It’s true that the state news media had called Mr Trump a “wise politician” and the right choice for American voters. Since the election: silence, with only an indirect comment.

Might Kim Jong-un be confused by the things Mr Trump said on his way to victory? It’s true that the president-elect called the leader in Pyongyang a “bad dude”.
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But he also held out what might be heard as an olive branch – or at least a fast-food carton of peace. Mr Trump said that he would be prepared to meet Mr Kim over a hamburger.

“Why not? What is wrong with talking?” he was quoted as saying in May. “I won’t host a state dinner for him. Same goes for the Chinese and others who rip us off.” But a chat over a burger might be acceptable.

So, might the silence from Pyongyang be because they simply don’t know how to read Mr Trump’s words (in which they would not be alone).

Is the president-elect still up for a meeting with the man building nuclear weapons to turn Washington into a “sea of fire”? Is he still at odds with Japan and South Korea, or has victory in the election changed his policy?

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Joint US-South Korean military exercises

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It has certainly softened Mr Trump’s tone. Before the election, he seemed scornful of the alliance with South Korea and Japan. “Japan is better if it protects itself against this maniac of North Korea,” he said.

CNN said he had said on one of its programmes: “We are better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start protecting itself… they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.”

But the South Korean and Japanese leaders were the first he talked to after he won. He meets Prime Minister Abe in the flesh next week.

And after his talk with President Park, her office said that Mr Trump had pledged that “we will be steadfast and strong with respect to working with you to protect against the instability in North Korea”.

Much depends on who President Trump surrounds himself with. One possibility for secretary of state (in charge of foreign affairs) is John Bolton, who was once described by North Korea as “human scum”.

He was a hawkish ambassador to the UN under George W Bush. He has urged toughness towards Russia and is, therefore, unlikely to recommend “hamburger diplomacy” with the North Korean leader.

But one thing we have learned is that predicting Donald Trump is a fool’s game.

And the Obama doctrine of showing “strategic patience” (squeeze and wait) with North Korea hasn’t obviously worked. There are no signs of regime collapse in Pyongyang – quite the contrary.

What might President Trump do to thwart Mr Kim?

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North Korea said that it had tested its first thermonuclear weapon in January 2016

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On American television in February, he indicated that he thought China was the key.

He said: “China has control – absolute control – over North Korea. They don’t say it, but they do.

“And they should make that problem disappear.”

In Iowa in January, Mr Trump hinted at some admiration for Kim Jong-un, even as he suggested his counterpart was crazy.

He said: “This guy, he’s like a maniac, OK? And you have to give him credit.

“How many young guys – he was like 26 or 25 when his father died – take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden, you know, it’s pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that?”

And answering his own rhetorical question, Mr Trump said: “He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn’t play games. And we can’t play games with him. Because he really does have missiles. And he really does have nukes.”

He does – and they are getting better, with a bigger bang. The clock is ticking faster.

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Could a future summit be possible?

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