One of my fonder memories from my youth involves watching M*A*S*H, remembering all the focus on the endless peace talks taking place in Panmunjom. (Hawkeye once stole a jeep and drove up there to crash the proceedings.) In the opening days of 2018, everything old is new again. North and South Korean leaders Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in are opening up the peace village to resume negotiations, initially focusing on a way to get through the upcoming Olympic Games in PyeongChang without any inconvenient mushroom clouds blossoming over the stadium. (NBC News)
North and South Korea will hold official talks on Jan. 9, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Friday, after Pyongyang sent a statement accepting Seoul’s offer for talks next week.
The agenda will include the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as well as other issues of mutual interest, ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing.
South Korea’s peace overture earlier this week was in response to comments made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a New Year’s Day speech. He suggested immediate talks with Seoul over sending a delegation to the Olympics.
In one of the more curious tweets in a week full of unusual activity on Twitter, the President seemed to take credit for the talks getting underway.
With all of the failed “experts” weighing in, does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total “might” against the North. Fools, but talks are a good thing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
That statement seemed to strike a slightly different tone than the one coming from UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. When the proposed talks were first brought up, she quickly threw cold water on the idea, saying that any agreement which didn’t include Kim abandoning his nuclear arsenal was basically a non-starter. The attitude coming from the State Department has been harder to pin down. Rex Tillerson previously said that he was open to the idea of talks, mostly without conditions, but since then he’s been essentially silent on the subject.
If Kim Jong-un’s plan was to force some space between South Korea and the United States, it seems to be working. I brought this subject up after Kim made his New Year’s speech. The moves currently being made by South Korea don’t leave us in a particularly good position in terms of finding a path to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, but looking at it from the perspective of Moon Jae-in it’s rather hard to blame him.
The United States is looking at this situation with an eye on the long game. The ultimate goal is to get the North Koreans to completely abandon and dismantle their nuclear weapons program. South Korea is focused on the more pressing and immediate concern of ensuring that Kim’s nuke program isn’t deployed against them. We’ve got a shot at trying to stop any ICBMs that the North might potentially send our way, but Seoul is basically walking distance from Pyongyang. It’s not hard to see how the South might want to take a less provocative stance than the White House. Of course, their situation is complicated by the fact that they still need U.S. support against the North no matter what sort of resolution is reached regarding nuclear weapons.
At this point, the radioactive horse is already out of the barn. It’s no longer a question of if or even when Kim Jong-un will have nukes and the ability to hurl them over long distances. He’s got them and is apparently filling up his storage lockers with even more. Is there any sort of a deal which would see him willingly give them up after all he’s gone through to reach this goal? Unlikely. And even if he agreed to something along those lines, would the west have any reason at all to believe Rocket Man would hold up his end of the bargain? Again… not so much.
At this point, it seems the best we can hope for is to see the Olympic Games go off without anything literally blowing up in our faces. And that’s a job best handled by the two Koreas. After that? My magic eight-ball says to check again later. But you might take a hint from the fact that the CDC is preparing a briefing on how to prepare for nuclear war later this month.