After last week’s unscheduled meeting with U.S. top security advisors about the North Korea problem, President Donald Trump said the government was going to take a diplomatic and economic approach to get the unruly country to abandon its nuclear weapon program.
Although military action as an option was downplayed, Trump has made it clear that he isn’t sure that applying economic and diplomatic pressure will be effective enough and that the tensions could escalate very quickly.
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” said Trump to Reuters. “We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult.”
He has a point. North Korea has never responded as hoped when given stricter sanctions.
He also pointed out that he understands that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s role isn’t easy.
“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want, but that is not easy, especially at that age,” said Trump. “I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational.”
But, Trump also has a series of especially difficult decisions to make depending on how North Korea responds to the next moves by the U.S.
China is perhaps the only country with the power to force North Korea to stop testing nuclear missiles. Trump has said he plans to deal with North Korea with or without China. However, he hopes China comes through as an alley on this issue in particular.
Trump and the Chinese President Xi Jinping had a successful summit earlier in the month.
“I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death,” said Trump. “He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well.”
It looks like China is taking a tougher stance on North Korea. There have been recent reports that China has halted all coal imports from North Korea. This has made an impact.
“The North Korean capital is also being hit by an acute shortage of gasoline that has sparked price hikes and hoarding — and driving rumors that China is to blame. The shortage, which is extremely unusual, if not unprecedented, began last week when signs went up at gas stations around the city informing customers that restrictions on sales would be put in place until further notice,” writes The Washington Times. “Prices, meanwhile, have shot up. They had been fairly stable, typically at about 70 to 80 cents a kilogram, but on Wednesday at least one station was charging $1.40. One kilogram is roughly equivalent to one liter, so a gallon at the station now costs about $5.30.”
Then last Thursday, Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, said that China has threatened to impose their own sanctions if North Korea continues to participate in nuclear tests.
“We know that China is in communications with the regime in Pyongyang,” said Tillerson, on Fox News Channel. “They confirmed to us that they had requested the regime conduct no further nuclear test.”
Specifically, he said China told North Korea “that if they did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own.”
Officials hope that both pressure from new China and the U.S. will be enough, but a targeted military strike is still on the table.
“It’s an open defiance of the international community,” said H.R. McMaster, National Security Adviser on Fox News Sunday. “It’s important for all of us to confront this regime… . None of us can accept a North Korea with a nuclear weapon.”
“The president, I think, has been masterful in terms his development of a relationship with President Xi and in the discussions that led them to the place where the United States and the Chinese understand their interests overlap.”
Author’s note: Trump is trying to establish his negotiating range. He can’t make it seem like a threat of force isn’t on the table because then it would be difficult to solve the problem. Force is obviously not his first preference, but it has to remain as an option. Although China is a “frenemy,” Trump knows that the country can help to get North Korea to behave and so the U.S. can avoid war.
Editor’s note: Update – Trump let slip a remark that Kim Jong Un is “a smart cookie.” This small sign of respect could bring the brutal dictator to the bargaining table. Trump does not want a war, he wants a nuke free North Korea. In my own view, this shows the negotiating expertise of the Donald Trump, he has established the entire range of response from respect and possible friendship, to all out war.