Speaking to U.S. allies in Vancouver, B.C. today, 65-year-old Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told participants that if North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un doesn’t agree to disarmament talks, the U.S. will be forced to take military action. Speaking to the Associated Press today, 71-year-old President Donald Trump said while he preferred diplomacy, military action may be the only way to stop Kim from developing a nuclear-ready Intercontinental Ballistic Missile [ICBM]. Trump admitted that 25 years of U.S. diplomacy has allowed North Korea to get dangerously close to a long-range nuclear missile capable of hitting anywhere in the United States. No matter what the risks on the Korean Peninsula, Tillerson emphasized that the U.S. negotiating position with Pyongyang is clear: North Korea must disarm. So far, there’s zero evidence that Kim is willing to give up his nukes and ballistic missiles.
Tillerson said the U.S. needs a “credible negotiating partner,” someone willing to take seriously past U.N. resolutions to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Meeting with North Korea for preliminary peace talks Jan. 8, South Korean President Moon Jae-in hoped that it was the first step toward reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. But all that was discussed concerned North Korean sending a small delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Feb. 8-25. “We need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation,” said Tillerson, when asked about the prospect of war. While everyone wants peace, Trump won’t trade peace-for-appeasement, something South Korea looks prepared to do. Trump and Tillerson can’t see any scenario in which the U.S. accepts a nuclear-armed North Korea, making daily nuclear threats against the U.S. and its allies.
North Korea’s “peace” delegation told South Korea at the Jan. 8 meeting in the De-militarized Zone that they shouldn’t worry about their nukes and ballistic missiles because they’re only intended for the U.S. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said the same thing Nov. 8 to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stotenberg. North Korea’s so detached from reality they don’t know that the U.S. provides the lion’s share of NATO and South Korea’s funding and security. A threat to the United States, as stated by Kim’s delegation Jan. 9, is a threat to NATO, South Korean and U.S. allies in the Pacific Rim. “We have to recognize that the threat is growing and that if North Korea doe not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion and negotiation then they themselves will trigger an option,” Tillerson said. Tillerson showed he’s on the exact same page as Trump, preparing the world for U.S. action.
New reports about Russia helping North Korea skirt U.N. sanctions show the way the Kremlin still views Pyongyang as a client state. Trump asked Putin to do more to rein-in North Korea’s nukes and ballistic missile program. With U.S.-Russian relations near rock bottom, slightly improved over former President Barack Obama, Trump has little leverage with Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made matters worse at his yearly press event, blaming the U.S. for hegemony around the globe. With Special Counsel Robert Mueller looking into Russian meddling and alleged Trump collusion in the 2016 campaign, there’s little chance of improved U.S.-Russian relations. Trump said today that intel reports confirm Russia helping Pyongyang skirt U.N. sanctions, especially petroleum imports. There’s only so much Trump can do to rely on Russia and China to curb Kim’s nuclear ambitions.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono doubted that Kim was taking seriously U.N. sanctions or, for that matter, Trump’s warnings. Kim “wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear and missile programs,” said Kono, urging the U.S. to act accordingly. With Kim routinely flying missiles at or over Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s losing patience with Pyongyang. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyund-wha said talks with North Korea were a “significant first step toward restoring inter-Korean relations,” showing the kind of denial that exists in Seoul. South Korean President Moon Jae-in wants peace at all costs, including accepting Pyongyang as a nuclear state. Trump told Moon Sept 3, 2016 that appeasing North Korea is no longer acceptable. Yet South Korea looks content to allow Kim his nukes and ballistic missiles, despite Kim’s threats against the U .S.
Tillerson signaled to U.S. allies in Vancouver that the military option against North Korea is growing by the day. Without any cooperation from North Korea to comply with U.N. resolutions and sanctions, there’s no enforcement mechanism other than U.S. military intervention. With Russia aiding-and-abetting Pyongyang, there’s only so much diplomacy can do to convince Kim to disarm his nukes and ballistic missiles. Tillerson encouraged U.S. allies in the Pacific rim to be on the lookout for North Korean evasions. Tillerson wants U.S. allies to interdict ships skirting U.N. sanctions, especially Russian tankers delivering petroleum to North Korean ships. Trump hoped but never got a total oil embargo on North Korea, leaving Russia and China to evade U.N. resolutions. Without some genuine steps to disarm its nukes and ballistic missiles, North Korea faces an uncertain future in 2018.