Friday, March 09, 2018

Not The Button

A few hours before announcement of President Trump's decision to accept an invitation to meet with Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea Kim Jong-un, Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe (the US Senate's most prominent climate change denier) told Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network

I mean, look what's happening right now in North Korea, I believe all of that started when he made the strong statement to Kim Jong-un that he had a bigger button, he could fire (INAUDIBLE) the map and all of a sudden un started talking to South Korea and say -- I think welcome to the Winter games and all of that. 

A few minutes after the big news broke, former Obama Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and eastern European expert Evelyn Farkas (video below from last July) gave a conditional thumbs up to the development. On Chris Matthews' Hardball, she stated "we have to maintain the pressure because remember what got them to the table- sanctions and unfortunately probably some of the bluster coming out of the White House."

Upon further reflection, Farkas on Friday morning added to her comments on Hardball by tweeting

I've sat across from North Korean diplomats and military officers. They come armed with history. Even Kim Jing (sic) Un has been involved in foreign policy longer than our presiden. We should be careful.  

Attributing this hopeful developement solely- or even primarily- to Trump's tough-guy bluster, as Inhofe did, appears to be in error.  The New York Times observes that the invitation relayed to the President resulted from a meeting on Monday of the North Korean dictator and South Korea's Chung Eui-yong.  Further, Time's Laigness Barron reported Wednesday

The U.S. has imposed new sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its determination that the North Korean government used a chemical warfare agent in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of regime leader Kim Jong Un.

The State Department said Tuesday that it determined North Korea used VX nerve agent, the most toxic of all chemical weapons. The statement offered no further details on how the suspected link between the chemical agent and the North Korean government was definitively proven.

“On February 22, the United States determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 that the Government of North Korea used the chemical warfare agent VX to assassinate Kim Jong Nam, in the Kuala Lumpur airport,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.

There also now may be a realization that the USA has no alternative but to deal with Pyongyang. NBC's Andrea Mitchell explains today (Friday).

Only this week, the U.S. said it had concluded Pyongyang was responsible for assassinating Kim's step-brother in the Kuala Lumpur airport by using VX, a banned lethal nerve gas. The U.S. has also accused the Pyongyang regime of supplying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with illegal chemical weapons. And the Defense Intelligence Agency reported to Congress this week that Kim now has three intercontinental ballistic missiles, two of which can hit the U.S. mainland.

The timing of all this is not coincidental. Even before recent events, the Obama Administration had imposed sanctions on the North, though the diplomat who coordinated the policy concedes "the Obama Administration had come to the conclusion in its last six months that it had not done enough on sanctions." In September, President Trump ramped up the pressure.

We can be only uncertain whether the Trump-Kim talks will yield positive results, negative results, or no results at all, nor whether Kim has concluded that he can take Trump for all he's worth. But we do have a fairly good idea of what- on the American side- got the ball rolling, and enabled my cliches.

The North Korean leader, it has been reported, has started to become concerned about the impact of sanctions on his country, at least on the ruling class in Pyongyang. His country is needy, and our side is apprehensive. The suggestion by James Inhofe and others that the guy was intimidated by "fire and fury" rhetoric of the President is (in the spirit of the season) only so much blarney.

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