In mid-January, after news came out that the North Koreans would march with the South Koreans under the same flag at the Pyeongchang Olympics, Paste’s Roger Sollenberger wrote the following:
This reminds us, or should, that despite America’s overwhelming firepower, Kim Jong-Un wields the most powerful weapon in the region: Peace. We’re at the guy’s mercy. Unlike the United States, he can end the war any time he wants, and he’s sending serious signals he wants to head towards some kind of peaceful resolution. It might not sound like that to us here in the United States, but that’s because at the end of the day we’re the only ones who really care what the United States gets out of all this.
If peace has become Kim Jong-Un’s new weapon of choice, he’s wielding it again this week. In an unprecedented move that goes against decades of belligerent posturing, the North Korean leader has indicated to South Korean diplomats that he’s willing to enter talks focused on abandoning nuclear weapons, and would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while such negotiations were ongoing. Per the Times:
“The North expressed its willingness to hold a heartfelt dialogue with the United States on the issues of denuclearization and normalizing relations with the United States,” the statement said. “It made it clear that while dialogue is continuing, it will not attempt any strategic provocations, such as nuclear and ballistic missile tests.”
Trump had little choice but to welcome the overture, though he added a caveat about false hope:
The North Koreans would clearly want security guarantees before they agreed to anything, but perhaps this is a legitimate step in the right direction. During the two-day visit by the South Korean envoys to Pyongyang, it was agreed that Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-in would hold a “summit meeting” in April near the border. There will also be a hotline installed that allows the two leaders to communicate by phone, another first. The diplomats will be head to Washington D.C. next to brief Trump on their visit, and are carrying “additional messages” from Kim to the U.S. president that they wouldn’t reveal.
It’s extremely difficult to tell whether the North Koreans are legitimate in their offers, or whether it’s a long-term plan to milk concessions from the U.S., only to resume the status quo at a later date. Japan’s defense minister, Itsunori Onodera, was one of the voices sounding a cautionary note:
“While talking about nuclear abandonment several times, it turned out that North Korea didn’t halt its nuclear development in the past,” Mr. Onodera said. “We need to carefully assess if this North and South dialogue will really lead to the abandonment of nuclear and missile development.”
The South Korean envoys were the first officials from the country to meet in person with Kim Jong-un in his capacity as leader. He succeeded his father in 2011.