The prospects for peace diplomacy between the US and North Korea took a sudden hit after President Donald Trump issued an extraordinary threat to Kim Jong Un. It was in effect a death threat.
Trump warned last week that if the North Korean leader does not comply with Washington’s demands for complete denuclearization, then Kim would “end up like Gaddafi”. Trump added that North Korea would be “decimated” if it did not give up its nuclear weapons.
Arguably, Trump’s rhetoric of violence towards another state is a violation of international law and the United Nations charter.
It was not the time first time the American president has engaged in criminal intimidation of the northeast Asian nation. Last September, he told the United Nations general assembly that North Korea would be “totally destroyed”.
Yet US news media are spinning the latest row by blaming North Korea for being devious, and backtracking “in typical fashion” from negotiations, allegedly in order to extract more concessions.
US media are ignoring the glaringly obvious fact that Washington is holding a gun to North Korea’s head, and in Mafia-style, making an offer it thinks Pyongyang “can’t refuse”.
All of a sudden, the much-anticipated summit between Trump and Kim – scheduled for June 12 in Singapore – has been thrown into doubt. North Korean state media have cautioned that the summit will be cancelled if the US insists on unilateral nuclear disarmament by Pyongyang.
The Trump administration responded by saying it is continuing with plans for the Singapore meeting. However, American and South Korean officials are reportedly in a tizzy to ascertain North Korea’s position in order to keep the summit on track. No doubt, Trump is anxious not to be deprived of his moment of glory.
Two developments have undermined North Korea’s willingness to engage with Washington. After the apparent breakthrough of Trump and Kim putting their previous belligerent rhetoric aside and agreeing to hold a face-to-face summit, North Korea has gone cold.
Pyongyang has cited the public comments made by Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton in which the latter said that Washington was looking to the “Libya model” as a guideline for how it is preparing to deal with North Korea. Bolton was referring to when former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to unilaterally terminate his nuclear weapons program in 2003-2004 in order to appease the George W Bush administration.
It was an audacious reference point by the sinisterly hawkish Bolton given how seven years later, Gaddafi’s government was overthrown by an illegal US-NATO war which resulted in the Libyan leader being murdered on the streets.
North Korea had previously cited the case of Libya and Iraq as examples of how countries without an insurance policy of weapons of mass destruction are liable to be subjected to American regime-change attack.
Now with notorious Bush-era regime-change architect John Bolton explicitly referring to Libya as a “model” – on the cusp of supposed diplomatic engagement – it is no small wonder that North Korea has decided to snap back.
The other development is the going ahead of annual military exercises this month conducted by US forces and their South Korean ally. Currently, both militaries are carrying out “Max Thunder” maneuvers reportedly involving warplanes and warships near the North Korea border which, as usual, looks to Pyongyang like preparations for invasion. How is that supposed to be “confidence-building” for North Korea?
While warning that the meeting with Trump might not take place, North Korea also abruptly cancelled high-level talks last week with South Korean counterparts, citing the ongoing joint US military exercises as reason for the cancellation. North Korea hit out at South Korea for being “foolish and incompetent” over the continuation of military exercises.
Again, that was another dramatic reversal in diplomacy. Only a few weeks ago, North Korea’s Kim held a historic meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae In at the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries since the end of the Korean War (1950-53). Both leaders vowed a new era of cooperation and their intention to sign a formal peace treaty to finally mark the end of the war.
Western media interpretation of North Korea’s vacillation is misplaced and unnecessarily cynical. This is not about Pyongyang playing mind games and gouging for concessions, as the media imply.
It is simply a reflection of the United States revealing its real and reprehensible agenda of expecting North Korea to unilaterally disarm without any reciprocation from Washington. In short, capitulation and surrender.
Added to that demand is the very grave underlying threat of Washington then moving on to regime change when North Korea is deemed “safe”, that is, defenseless.
Trump’s keenness to hold a “historic summit” with Kim is not about seeking a mutual peace settlement. The real-estate-tycoon-turned-president is all about glitzy spectacle and vainglorious success. He has even talked about how he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.
Of course, a globally televised handshake with Kim totally plays to Trump’s ego and the former reality TV star’s craving for ratings.
That’s why Trump appeared to slap back Bolton last week by trying to reassure North Korea the “US wasn’t using the Libya model”.
But then in the same moment Trump blundered even further by going on to say, bizarrely, that North Korea would end up like Libya if it did not give up its nuclear weapons.
The morally decrepit warmonger John Bolton and CIA torture-supporter Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State are very sound reasons for why North Korea appears to be turning its back on proposed talks.
With Trump then showing his ignorance and brutish instincts there is even more reason for Pyongyang to be wary.
Peace for the Korean Peninsula is a multilateral formula. North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons is only one part of the equation. Another indispensable part is Washington removing its military forces, signing a peace guarantee with Pyongyang, ending its economic warfare, and permitting the two Koreas to pursue reconciliation without interference.
But, as noted previously in this column, Washington’s strategic interests in maintaining military force in the Asia-Pacific towards Russia and China are such that it is anathema for the US to agree to a genuine peace settlement in Korea.
Beneath the superficial American diplomacy, Washington’s agenda is for North Korea’s surrender to Uncle Sam.
Telling North Korea to “negotiate or else” is like holding a gun to its head. No nation with any self-respect would comply.
Pyongyang is just right to give Washington short shrift due to the latter’s bad faith and arrogant ignorance about its obligations. Trump’s backsliding on the Iran nuclear deal is another object lesson for North Korea.
Ominously, though, Uncle Sam is going to get very nasty after having had his nose tweaked.