American President Donald Trump has scrapped the summit planned next month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In a letter to Kim, Trump decried the verbal “open hostility” displayed by North Korea in recent days towards members of his administration.
In particular, North Korean officials had slammed Vice President Mike Pence as “stupid” and “ignorant” for comments he had made about nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula. But Pence’s remarks were arguably far more hostile than anything Pyongyang said in response.
Pence explicitly said in a US media interview earlier this week that North Korea could “end up like Libya” if it did not comply with American demands for it to give up its nuclear weapons. That was an outrageous threat made in a primetime interview by the second highest US official. It was a staggering declaration of aggression given how American and NATO warplanes had bombed Libya into a failed state which led to the murder of its revered leader Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011.
North Korea has often said that Libya’s doom was precisely why it had taken the path of developing nuclear weapons. In order to deter American aggression and regime change. Pence was effectively making a criminal threat of war against North Korea and gloating about murdering the country’s leader. And yet Trump complained that Pyongyang’s response to that outrageous ultimatum was “open hostility”.
Moreover, Pence is only the latest senior US official to openly brag about destroying North Korea. Only weeks ago, Trump’s National Security Advisor and notorious war hawk John Bolton flouted international law by warning that Washington was looking to the “Libya Model” as a guideline in dealing with North Korea. Trump himself, in a display of garbled logic, said in the past week that Pyongyang would be “decimated like Libya” if it did not comply with US demands – and that was immediately after Trump tried to “reassure” Kim Jong Un that the US was “not using the Libya Model”.
How can any adversary possibly trust this administration?
The debacle over the “historic summit” between Trump and Kim – it would have been the first meeting ever between a sitting American president and a North Korea leader – shows that the challenge to find a peaceful resolution to the decades-old conflict is not going to be easy.
A major part of the problem is that the Trump White House evidently has a poorly informed view of what a genuine peace process would involve.
Trump has pushed on with the idea of meeting Kim seemingly under the mistaken impression that North Korea is willing to capitulate to American high-handed demands for its nuclear disarmament. Pyongyang has never said that it is willing to unilaterally give up its weapons. It has always made clear that it could be willing to denuclearize in the context of a multilateral accord in which the United States gives guarantees of security and eschews the agenda of regime change.
The White House’s minting of a “commemorative coin” to mark the would-be Singapore summit between Trump and Kim on June 12 now looks decidedly foolish. Usually such official memorabilia are always created after an event has taken place. The prematurely minted coins, bearing the names of Trump and Kim, shows an arrogant complacency in Washington’s thinking that American objectives were “in the bag”.
At no time has the Trump administration shown any awareness of what America’s historic obligations entail in order to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula. Those obligations include signing a treaty to finally mark the definitive end of the Korea War (1950-53) in which US forces killed millions of Koreans while supporting its ally South Korea against the communist North. American obligations also include scaling back its massive military presence in the region, its repeated war maneuvers, and lifting crippling economic sanctions off Pyongyang.
The Trump White House seems to have the arrogant view that any peace process is simply all down to North Korea unilaterally giving up its nuclear weapons. Trump has even encouraged his voter base to demand that he be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
Again, this demonstrates how clueless the Trump administration is in its approach to finding a peaceful resolution in Korea.
What is of utmost concern now is that the superficial diplomacy from Washington will be supplanted by a dangerous return to aggression, possibly leading to war. North Korea this week said it was ready for a “nuclear showdown” if the US did not engage in mutual dialogue.
Recall that only a few months ago, Trump was warning that North Korea would be faced with “fire and fury like never before” and that he was willing to “totally destroy” the nation. Such criminal calculations are liable to resume, especially now that Washington feels it has been “betrayed” by North Korea rejecting its ultimatum to surrender or end up like Libya.
After cancelling the Singapore summit, Trump wrote in his letter that he was leaving the door open for future talks. But those putative talks will not be viable if the Americans do not repudiate their illusions of unilateral nuclear disarmament by North Korea and regime change.
Trump added he was maintaining “maximum pressure” of genocidal economic sanctions on the people of North Korea. He also made a sinister reference to America’s “massive nuclear arsenal” and said he “prayed to God that it would not be used”.
North Korea’s self-imposed demolition this week of its only nuclear test site at Punggye-Ri can be viewed as a goodwill gesture that it is willing to seek a disarmament process. But for any process to succeed, the US must be willing to reciprocate.
Bragging about regime change and the criminal destruction of Libya amounts to an act of stupendous vandalism by the US on the fragile diplomatic engagement with North Korea.
An opportunity for peace is being squandered by US leaders who seem to suffer from deep ignorance and criminal entitlement.