Other than a disturbing demonstration of the American media’s willingness to amplify Stalinist propaganda, was anything of significance achieved regarding the Korean Peninsula crisis in Pyeongchang? Both the American and North Korean official delegations have left the Pyeongchang Olympics, with Vice President Mike Pence telling Washington Post analyst Josh Rogin that he has warned South Korean president Moon Jae-in against the mistakes of the past. The US will participate in direct negotiations with North Korea, Pence says, but the sanctions will remain in place until the Kim regime offers concrete concessions of their own:
Vice President Pence, in an interview aboard Air Force Two on the way home from the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, told me that in his two substantive conversations with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during his trip, the United States and South Korea agreed on terms for further engagement with North Korea — first by the South Koreans and potentially with the United States soon thereafter.
The frame for the still-nascent diplomatic path forward is this: The United States and its allies will not stop imposing steep and escalating costs on the Kim Jong Un regime until it takes clear steps toward denuclearization. But the Trump administration is now willing to sit down and talk with the regime while that pressure campaign is ongoing.
Pence denies that the North Korea “charm offensive,” which appears to consist mainly of sending the youthful propaganda chief for the regime and a hundred or so cheerleaders, drove a wedge between the US and South Korea. The two partners agreed on a key point, Pence tells Rogin, and on strategy going forward. Unlike in the past, no more concessions will be made to Pyongyang simply for engaging in talks. If anything, Seoul and Washington moved closer together on that point during the Olympics visit.
Will that hold, though? Moon Jae-in will travel to Pyongyang soon, and his first aim is to prevent another round of nuclear and missile tests. Pence announced that a new round of sanctions would be unveiled soon, which at least offers the North an arguable rhetorical talks-for-concessions takeaway if an initial round of preliminary engagement postpones the new sanctions. However, Rogin sees a bigger breakthrough on the horizon:
The idea of “talks about talks” is not new. In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has raised the idea multiple times. Trump himself has said he sees nothing wrong with talking with the North Koreans per se. Moving from that to substantive negotiations would still be extremely difficult. But to make any real progress, talking is the first necessary step.
The White House’s endorsement of the concept of initial talks without preconditions is hugely significant. It provides a real fix to the break between Washington and Seoul. It also increases the chances the United States and North Korea will soon begin a process that represents the best hope of preventing a devastating international conflict.
Perhaps, but we’ve been down this road a number of times before. Pence wants “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time,” a goal which previous administrations have set without much success. The only indication that there may be light at the end of this tunnel now is not because of a sudden proclivity by the Kim regime for peaceful coexistence, but because they may believe they have a missile that can deliver a nuclear bomb to the US mainland. That would force the US to deal with them as an equal nuclear power, as the current and past Kims have asserted. They’re not going to deal that away, not without a whole lot of “maximum pressure” at the very least.
Speaking of cooperating with Stalinist propaganda, which “senior diplomatic source close to North Korea” did CNN amplify by asserting that Pence’s meetings with North Korean defectors “degraded the image of the United States as a superpower”? Whoever thinks that meeting defectors who bravely escaped from the world’s worst prison state degrades us must either have some strong affection for totalitarianism or just a knee-jerk hatred of Pence, with heavy emphasis on jerk.