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1/04/2018 6:59 am  #1

Koreans Turn Down the Volume

 Like an adult trying to carry on an intelligent conversation while a child is having a tantrum, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has tried to resume direct engagement with Pyongyang,

Koreans Turn Down the Volume

JAN. 3, 2018

President Trump began the new year with an apocalyptic Twitter outburst, taunting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Meanwhile, like an adult trying to carry on an intelligent conversation while a child is having a tantrum, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has tried to resume direct engagement with Pyongyang, which was cut off nearly two years ago. It provided at least a dim glimmer of hope that the North Korean nuclear arms crisis can be resolved peacefully.

It’s a move that requires patience and humility, qualities Mr. Trump generally lacks. The North Koreans have long made clear that they view South Korea as a lackey of their chief adversary, the United States. Yet since his inauguration in May, Mr. Moon has called for dialogue with the North, which severed all communications with Seoul in 2016 after Mr. Moon’s conservative predecessor shuttered an industrial complex in the North.

Mr. Moon has been pressing Pyongyang for months to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics his nation is hosting next month. The proposal was effectively ignored until Mr. Kim used his annual New Year’s Day speech to signal he was “open to dialogue” with the South to discuss easing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, as well as to sending North Korean athletes to join the Games.

Mr. Moon quickly took advantage of the opening, proposing that high-level negotiators meet next Tuesday at the village of Panmunjom at the demilitarized zone on the border. On Wednesday, the North agreed to South Korea’s suggestions to reopen a hotline at the DMZ, restoring a communications channel that let the two sides talk directly if tensions rose. The need has never been clearer than now, as Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim trade threats and inflame regional tensions.

There is reason to be wary of Mr. Kim’s intentions, given his history of ruthlessness and threats to launch a weapon against the United States, including the rant that preceded Mr. Trump’s belligerent tweet. By expressing interest in talks with South Korea, Mr. Kim may be trying to drive a wedge between Mr. Moon and Mr. Trump, who has largely rejected negotiations in favor of crippling sanctions and dangerous bombast against the North. But that is a situation that Mr. Trump has put himself in, and from which he could extricate himself.

"The Trump Administration should open up a high-level bilateral dialogue that maps out a path to get Kim focussed on economic development,...

Jonas Goh 4 hours ago
As a Korean I see no other way but a peaceful dialogue to solve the North Korean crisis.As many experts testified there is no military way...

Mr. Moon is right when he insists that sanctions alone will not end the North’s nuclear weapons program and when he objects to pre-emptive military action against North Korea, which Mr. Trump is reportedly considering at the risk of unleashing a full-scale war that would cause vast numbers of deaths.

But while dialogue between North Korea and South Korea is crucial to peacefully resolving the issues that divide the two countries, the United States, which defended South Korea in the Korean War and has nearly 30,000 troops on the Korean Peninsula, is also central to any solution, and needs to closely coordinate with its ally.

The South Koreans have asked the Americans to defer joint military exercises to ensure calm during the Olympics. This makes sense. So would a decision by North Korea to forgo any nuclear or missile testing. Whether those temporary measures could be extended beyond the Olympics would depend on whether negotiations prove fruitful.

Some fear that as part of any dialogue, South Korea could make too many concessions, like agreeing to end military exercises with the United States or no longer participating in sanctions. Still, dialogue is a risk worth taking.

Robert Carlin and Joel Wit, former American negotiators with North Korea who have analyzed Mr. Kim’s New Year speech as well as a separate government statement, believe that North Korea’s interest in discussions with South Korea is serious. The only way to know that is to test it, with the United States leading the way on a comprehensive strategy integrating sanctions, prudent statements and negotiations.

“You do not improve a society by setting fire to it. Instead, find its old virtues and bring them back into the light”

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