Trump adopts ‘strategic patience’ toward North

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Trump adopts ‘strategic patience’ toward North

U.S. President Donald Trump recently greenlit a four-point policy plan on North Korea implementing sanctions while aiming for a resolution to the nuclear issue through dialogue, according to South Korean lawmakers visiting Washington.

It is comprised of four main strategies: not recognizing North Korea as a nuclear state, imposing every possible sanction, not seeking a regime change and ultimately resolving the problem with dialogue.

Joseph Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, briefed a bipartisan group of visiting South Korean lawmakers on the Trump administration’s comprehensive approach toward Pyongyang, Rep. Kim Kwan-young of the People’s Party told reporters in Washington Thursday.

Trump was said to have signed off on a comprehensive policy report by the Department of State, which underwent review by related agencies about two weeks ago, Kim said he learned from the briefing. Kim was accompanied by Democratic Reps. Youn Kwan-suk and So Byung-hoon and Liberty Korea Party Rep. Jun Hee-kyun.

Recently, Trump emphasized that “all options are on the table,” leaving open the possibility of military action, including a pre-emptive strike on the North. At the beginning of the month, Trump also said he would be “honored” to meet Kim Jong-un, under the “right circumstances,” but also called the North Korean leader a “madman with nuclear weapons” in a phone call with President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. He was quoted as saying that even if Washington has 20 times more firepower than the North, “we don’t want to use it.”

The initiatives outlined to the lawmakers by Yun seems to be in line with the approach of “maximum pressure and engagement” set forth by the U.S. foreign affairs and security team, including through State Secretary Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis. A joint statement released one month ago by Tillerson, Mattis and Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, following their briefing on North Korea policy to the U.S. Congress, said Trump’s approach “aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures” with U.S. allies and regional partners.

They added Washington remains “open to negotiations” toward the goal of “stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The four-point strategy, especially through putting an emphasis on not recognizing North Korea as a nuclear state, is seen to be in line with the Obama administration’s policy of strategic patience.

The Trump administration, however, has been very critical of Obama’s so-called strategic patience. In his visit to Seoul last month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence declared that the “era of strategic patience is over.”

So far, military action seems to be exempted from the four main strategies, which support a diplomatic solution, though it is too early to tell if such an option is completely off the table.

However, if the Trump administration insists that it will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, as did the previous administration, then it will be difficult to resume negotiations under the condition of a nuclear freeze by Pyongyang rather than a complete scrapping of the nuclear and missile program. “This is in line with the briefing by the U.S. State Department to the Congress,” a South Korean diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday, “and the remark that ultimately the issue has to be resolved through dialogue is likely to be ‘under the right conditions.’”

President Moon Jae-in is scheduled for his first bilateral summit with Trump in Washington next month. There will be interest to see if the two can reach a consensus on a phase-by-phase and comprehensive approach to resolving the North Korea nuclear issue pushed for by Moon.

BY SARAH KIM, KIM HYUN-KI [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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