North Korea is discovering what Joni Mitchell once sang about: You don’t always know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. With Barack Obama gone, the US has taken a new approach to dealing with Pyongyang, and they’re not happy with it. The Kim regime’s “vice minister” told the Associated Press that they see Trump as less friendly and reasonable than Obama — whom they spent the last eight years provoking and threatening, too:
President Donald Trump’s tweets are adding fuel to a “vicious cycle” of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea’s vice foreign minister told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Friday. The official added that if the U.S. shows any sign of “reckless” military aggression, Pyongyang is ready to launch a pre-emptive strike of its own.
Vice Minister Han Song Ryol said Pyongyang has determined the Trump administration is “more vicious and more aggressive” than that of Barack Obama. He added that North Korea will keep building up its nuclear arsenal in “quality and quantity” and said Pyongyang is ready to go to war if that’s what Trump wants.
It’s tough to take this kind of rhetoric seriously from a regime that just deployed VX nerve agent in a crowded airport to kill off the current Dear Leader’s ne’er-do-well brother. Vicious and aggressive don’t even begin to describe that, or their hostage-taking of Malaysians in the diplomatic fallout that took place as a result of that bizarre assassination. Besides, the North Korean regime may be declaring a difference between the Obama and Trump administrations, but the tenor of their declarations remains exactly the same. This tweet could have been sent out at any time over the past several years of Kim Jong-un’s rule:
#BREAKING North Korean army vows 'merciless response' to any US provocation: KCNA
— AFP news agency (@AFP) April 14, 2017
For that matter, Han offers the same threats that North Korea routinely made over the last eight years, too. Some things never change:
North Korea said on Friday that nuclear war could break out on the Korean Peninsula “at any moment,” accusing the United States of escalating tensions that have set off fears of war and calls for calm by countries in the region.
Alluding to the Trump administration’s decision to send a naval flotilla to the region amid fears that Pyongyang is about to test a nuclear weapon, North Korea accused the United States of introducing “nuclear strategic assets” to the peninsula and of “pushing the situation there to the brink of war.”
“This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out any moment on the peninsula,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace said in a statement published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Yes, we’ve heard that a lot over the years, too. Also, has there ever been an actual, non-fictional name of a government agency than “the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace”?
What we haven’t heard for some time — through both Democratic and Republican administrations — is saber-rattling from Washington in response to that of the Kim regime. NBC News reported yesterday on a supposed plan to conduct a “pre-emptive strike” on North Korea if another nuclear test took place, a report that other sources later called “wildly wrong.”
Multiple sr defense officials say this report is "wildly wrong" "crazy." Pentagon pushing back on NBC report, call it "extremely dangerous." https://t.co/BLnoPHnhj9
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) April 13, 2017
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) April 13, 2017
Perhaps, but it’s also become clear to everyone that Trump does not plan to follow the script left for him by previous administrations. Pyongyang’s got that much right, which is why China’s Xi Jinping immediately began pressuring the Kim regime to step back as soon as he returned from his summit meeting with Trump in Florida a week ago. If the Kim regime has anyone to blame for this, it’s themselves; US administrations going all the way back to Eisenhower have tried to find some path toward accommodation with Pyongyang, and they’ve made it clear that they’re not interested in it. After 65 years of failure, and 25 years of nuclear-weapons failure, the US has decided to try another strategy.
At the same time, though, the White House may be making a move designed to calm the waters. Mike Pence will leave tomorrow for an eleven-day trip to Asia, starting with South Korea:
Vice President Mike Pence will leave Washington on Saturday for an 11-day trip overseas with his first stop in South Korea as North Korea appears to prepare for another nuclear test.
White House officials said Pence’s trip is intended to reinforce that the U.S. is fully committed to its security alliances, especially in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat, to facilitate economic engagement and reinforce that it’s fully committed to partnerships with key countries.
His trip comes as new satellite images show that North Korea may be preparing to conduct its sixth nuclear test, reports CBS News’ Ben Tracy. The country is “primed and ready,” a U.S.-based watchdog group says, after it analyzed telltale signs of activity at the remote underground test site.
It might also be designed to show that the US is not planning a strike on North Korea. If Trump planned that, then the Vice President wouldn’t go into the war theater on a diplomatic tour so near where North Korean missiles are aimed. Pence’s arrival will give everyone some breathing space — in the short run, anyway.