CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in January 2018 that Pyongyang was within “a handful of months” of being able to deliver nuclear warheads to the US. Donald Trump proposed to meet with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018. North Korea may agree to pause missile and nuclear testing while talks continue, but it is unlikely to agree to the long standing American demand for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” [CVID]. Trump may declare that having exhausted diplomacy and sanctions, the matter must be resolved by other means. Beginning in early 2018, the US military began an "OPSEC Reset" which greatly reduced the public visibility of ongoing activities. This heightened operational security would help presever the element of surprise for an American sneak attack on North Korea.
Korea Crisis - Trump 2018 "Bloody Nose"
Regarding the summit outcome, Trump said president Barack Obama told him before he took office that the “most dangerous problem” for the United States was North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. “I have solved that problem,” Trump said. “Now we’re getting it memorialized and all but that problem is largely solved.” Trump stressed that "I signed an agreement where we get everything", balking at critics who insist the summit results were a disappointment and were a significant concession to the regime. Trump also said he would like Americans to “sit up at attention” when he speaks like North Koreans do for Kim.
Trump declared 13 June 2018 the threat of a nuclear North Korea had ended, following his summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump said upon returning to the US. “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”
On 20 June 2018 Trump claimed there were multiple actions taken by North Korea regarding their fulfillment of the goal of the summit agreement stating the DPRK “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” He said "They stopped shooting missiles over Japan. They stopped all nuclear testing. They stopped nuclear research. They stopped rocketry. They stopped everything that you’d want them to stop”. He also said the North “blew up sites where they test and do the testing”.
Trump said on 21 June 2018 at a meeting of his Cabinet at the White House: “They’ve stopped the sending of missiles, including ballistic missiles. They’re destroying their engine site. They’re blowing it up. They’ve already blown up one of their big test sites, in fact it’s actually four of their big test sites.... And the big thing is it will be a total denuclearization, which has already started taking place.”
US Defense Secretary James Mattis suggested that the US-North Korea summit is just the beginning of a process for denuclearization. Mattis was asked by reporters whether North Korea has taken any moves toward denuclearization. He said, "I'm not aware of that. It's the very front end of a process." Mattis added, "The detailed negotiations have not begun. I wouldn't expect that at this point." Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said “North Korea has yet to show any concrete steps towards denuclearization.” The US-based North Korea monitoring group 38 North said there had been no sign of any activity toward dismantling Sohae or any other missile test site.
Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed an agreement following their historic summit in Singapore 11 June 2018. Trump was desperate for a major foreign policy success, one that allows him to say he succeeded where no other US president did. Kim gained some diplomatic credibility by going face to face with the most powerful man on the planet.
But there is the problem of Trump himself. Iran's nuclear deal with the international community has been scrapped under Trump's tenure. And over the weekend, the president rescinded support for a joint declaration from the Group of Seven (G7) countries over Twitter minutes after signing it. The same could happen with the North Korean joint declaration.
Unthinkable only a few months ago, the unprecedented Singapore meeting follows decades of bitter animosity between two countries that never officially buried the hatchet after the 1950-1953 Korean War. That enmity reached unprecedented rhetorical lows during the first year of Trump’s presidency, when the US leader promised to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it continued to threaten America and its allies with ballistic missile tests.
In the four-point one-page letter agrement, Trump committed to providing a security guarantee to North Korea, while Kim reaffirmed his pledge to the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula". The Wall Street Journal said that although Trump hails the statement as very comprehensive, it lacks the process to achieve complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization that the US has long called for.
The Trump-Kim statement spoke vaguely about working “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula”, but this was much less specific than the 1994 pledge to exchange diplomatic liaison offices, or the 2005 pledge to work for a peace treaty to end the Korean War.
The most important agreements were not in the agreement. Trump vowed to end joint military exercises between the US and South Korea. Trump said he thought it was inappropriate and provocative for the U.S. to “have war games” when it's negotiating with the North. Trump even adopted the North Korean position, calling the US military exercises in the region “provocative” - the standard North Korean propaganda line. Trump also said that ultimately he wants to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea. Trump also said an official declaration to end the Korean War will be made soon. Trump said Kim promised to destroy North Korea’s major missile engine testing site with regard to a complete denuclearization of the regime, adding many people will be mobilized to verify the North's denuclearization.
Multiple earlier agreements were reached in rounds of the 6-party talks. Those talks included the 2 countries and 4 others -- Japan, South Korea, China and Russia. A joint statement issued in September of 2005 said North Korea would abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs. The country also promised an early return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and said it would accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. An agreement adopted in February of 2007 noted that North Korea would halt operations at its nuclear facilities within 60 days. . Previous nuclear talks between the US and North Korea, most recently in 2009, broke down after North Korea rejected intrusive verification measures demanded by the US.
The White House minted commemorative coins, emblazoned with the word "peace talks" and visages of the two leaders. Trump boasted that "everybody thinks" he should receive a Nobel Peace Prize. By being so enthusiastic about the summit and basking in the false hopes that it will bring him a Nobel Peace prize, Trump ceded leverage to North Korea. Based on the sequence of events that led to Trump's non-cancellation / cancellation of the summit with Kim, there were signs of policy dysfunction in the White House.
If Trump's history is any indication, he would be satisfied with the appearance of unprecedented diplomacy. The United States and its allies have repeatedly said they are looking for the “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Trump initially called for a quick denuclearization process, saying a phased approach has not worked in the past. But after meeting with a senior North Korean leader on 01 June 2018 , Trump seemed to walk back that approach. “Take your time,” Trump told Kim Yong Chol, a top aide to Kim. “We can go fast, we can go slowly.” Trump also insisted that he “never said it happens in one meeting.”
President Donald Trump said 24 May 2018 he had canceled his planned June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, blaming recent statements by Pyongyang. “I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world,” said the president in noontime remarks in the White House Roosevelt Room prior to signing an unrelated bill. The president also warned that the military forces of the United States are “more ready than we have ever been before,” along with allies South Korea and Japan, should North Korea take any “foolish or reckless acts.” Trump expressed hope that Pyongyang’s leadership would join the community of nations.
After a conciliatory response on May 25 from North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, expressing Pyongyang's willingness to talk at "any time and in any format," Trump took an about-face and signaled on Twitter that the summit could very well continue as planned, without making anything official. Donald Trump on 01 June 2018 said the June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korea was back on, after meeting with North Korean official Kim Yong Chol for more than an hour in the Oval Office.
Donald Trump said 18 January 2018 he was willing to negotiate directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over his country's nuclear weapons program but expressed doubts the crisis could be resolved "in a peaceful way." On 26 January 2018 U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States will continue to "hold the line and provide credible military options" to diplomats working to de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and address Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threat.
Two former US secretaries of state on 25 January 2018 warned lawmakers of a marked rise in nuclear dangers stemming from North Korea's race to develop atomic weapons and the means to deliver them. 'We will hit that fork in the road, and the temptation to deal with it with a pre-emptive attack is strong, and the argument is rational, but I have seen no public statement by any leading official,' President Nixon's secretary of State told members of the Committee. 'The most immediate challenge to international security is posed by the evolution of the North Korea nuclear program,' Kissinger told the Senate Armed Services Committee, describing an 'unprecedented' scenario. "For the second time in a decade, an outcome that was widely considered unacceptable is now on the verge of becoming irreversible," he said.
Shultz expressed alarm about what he sees as changing attitudes regarding the use of atomic weapons. "President Reagan thought nuclear weapons were immoral, and we [the Reagan administration] worked hard to get them reduced," Schultz said. "I fear people have lost that sense of dread [about nuclear weapons], and now we see everything going in the other direction. The more countries have nuclear weapons, the more likely it is that one is going to go off somewhere, and the more fissile material is lying around, anybody who gets fissile material can make a weapon fairly easily."
Trump made statements during his State of the Union speech on 30 January 2018 that suggested that he was amenable to military action. "North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland," he said. "We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening. Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position."
The Washington Post reported on 30 January 2018 that the White House would pass on its original candidate for U.S. ambassador to South Korea Victor Cha after he disagreed with President Donald Trump's policy on North Korea. Seoul reportedly approved Washington’s nomination of Cha in December, hoping to have him in place before the start of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. It is very rare that an ambassador designate is not appointed after securing his diplomatic approval from a relevant country.
Cha objected to the Trump administration's considerations of a limited military strike on North Korea designed to send a message to the regime without triggering a war. The report said that Cha, who served as director for Asian affairs for the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, also disapproved of Trump's threats to terminate a bilateral free trade agreement with South Korea.
In a Washington Post opinion piece (“Giving North Korea a ‘bloody nose’ carries a huge risk to Americans”, January 31, 2018), Victor Cha details telling the administration, “The answer is not, as some Trump administration officials have suggested, a preventive military strike,’ before being dropped from contention for the ambassador post.
The White House distanced itself from Victor Cha in a press briefing on 01 February 2018. State Department spokesperson, Heather Nauert stressed that Cha had never actually received an official nomination from President Trump, and that the media went ahead with the assumption that he would be appointed next Ambassador to South Korea. She also stressed that Washington's policy on North Korea remains the same, and that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through diplomacy was the ultimate goal.
The statement came in response to the 'bloody nose' option that Trump officials were said to be considering, as described by Cha in his op-ed in the Washington Post. 'Bloody nose' refers to a preventive military strike on North Korea, to shock the regime into appreciating U.S. strength, or in other words, 'give Kim Jong-un a "bloody nose"'.
Cha said he voiced his opposition to the White House but the sudden withdrawal of Cha from consideration for ambassador led to speculation that the Trump administration was not only dissatisfied with Cha's stance on that policy but also considering the 'bloody nose' option much more seriously than previously thought.
However, a South Korean diplomatic source told reporters on 02 February 2018 that the withdrawal was not because of Cha's opposition to military options against North Korea, and that this was supported by credible information. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, added that several other factors contributed to the decision, and while military action is not off the table, it was not a feasible option at this current time. North Korea watchers in Seoul also agree on this possibility.
"The U.S. is perceiving the completion of North Korean ICBM as a kind of red line. If that happens the U.S. territory will be threatened. Maybe the U.S. will use some of military options, but I think that would only be for the worst case, and until then the majority of U.S. policy will be sanctions and pressure."
The South Korean government was reluctant to comment on Cha's situation, as it was a White House internal affair, but with the PyeongChang Winter Olympics just around the corner and North Korea participating in the games, the reasons behind Washington's withdrawal of Cha as the next envoy to Seoul seemed to be gathering unwanted and untimely attention.
Victor Cha suggested that "there is a forceful military option available that can address the threat without escalating into a war ... the United States must build a maritime coalition around North Korea involving rings of South Korean, Japanese and broader U.S. assets to intercept any nuclear missiles or technologies leaving the country. China and Russia should be prepared to face the consequences if they allow North Korean proliferation across their borders."
On 22 October 1962, President Kennedy announced the establishment of a naval blockade or "quarantine" of Cuba. The US sent 183 naval ships into the Caribbean. Ship commanders received instructions to search cargo vessels headed for the island--a violation of the rules of international law. Soviet vessels, meanwhile, were proceeding to Cuba as well. The US warships stood in their path. Tensions heightened. A new stop-and-frisk blockade of North Korea would probably prove just as exciting.
But Cha did not unpack precisely what problem his proposed embargo of North Korean shipping would solve. If the concern was shipments of entire long range ballistic missiles to al-Qaeda affiliates, it might do some good, but this is rather far fetched. If the concern was the threat the North Korea's nuclear capabilities posed to the immediate region, such a blockade would be irrelvant. If the concern was collusion between Iran and North Korea, it would also do not much good. North Korea has direct non-stop commercial air connections with Iran. The material of greatest concern would be shipments of dozens of kilograms of plutonium - not hard to hide. The other material of concern would be technical data on missile designs, but this could reside on thumb drives, or in the heads of returning Iranian rocket scientists.
The New York Times reported 02 February 2018 that the Department of Defense (DoD) had been slow to release their detailed war plans with the White House as they fear US President Donald Trump may actually use them. The Times reported that the DoD had been "worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically" and that "giving the president too many options… could increase the odds that he will act."
The Times' anonymous source claimed that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. were both heavily opposed to the use of force on the Korean Peninsula, as military action could have cataclysmic consequences. Instead they want to opt for diplomacy to deescalate the stand-off that has worn on since April 2017.
This put them in opposition to National Security Adviser H R McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who floated the idea of a strategic military strike against North Korean nuclear sites in the case that diplomacy breaks down.
The exercise Courageous Channel, has been a routine part of life for South Korea-based military families for decades. Dependents report to stations with their personal travel documents in tow, just as they would if the State Department ordered them to leave South Korea during a real crisis. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, said 03 December 2017 that he was urging Pentagon leaders to stop sending military families to the Korean peninsula. “South Korea should be unaccompanied tour,” Graham said on CBS's Face the Nation. “It's crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation in North Korea. So I want them to stop sending dependents. And I think it's now time to start moving American dependents out of the South Korea."
In February 2018 H.R. McMaster directed the the National Security Council staff to prepare a presidential memorandum ordering military dependents in South Korea to depart the country. Within a day, chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis convinced the President to agree to a scaled-down directive to bar military personnel in South Korea from bringing their families during future tours. A new memorandum was drafted, but it too was never implemented.
Prior to 2010, the vast majority of the 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea served one-year, unaccompanied tours. With tour normalization, assignments to South Korea would be more like assignments to Germany, Japan or other overseas installations. Single servicemembers typically serve two-year tours, and troops who bring their Families stay for three years. General Walter "Skip" Sharp took command of U.S. Forces Korea in 2009 r advocating longer tours.
A US National Security Council (NSC) official reportedly suggested that a limited preemptive strike on North Korea could help the Republican Party in the upcoming midterm elections -- a claim rebutted by the White House. The alleged comment, which was sourced from a scathing opinion column published 02 February 2018 by the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, was also tweeted by a Wall Street Journal reporter.
"Indeed, White House National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs Matthew Pottinger was reported as saying in a recent closed-door meeting with US experts on Korean Peninsula issues that a limited strike on the North 'might help in the midterm elections,'" read the English-translated version of the op-ed.
However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders fired back at the reporter, rejecting the claim by the Korean paper. The alleged quote first appeared in an earlier article by the Korean newspaper's Washington correspondent, which cited a source as saying that Pottinger's suggestion was implied, and not a direct quote, according to Business Insider.
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