Yet again Donald Trump has proved that he was not the most militaristic Republican running for President. While most of Trump’s erstwhile Republican opponents were more likely to propose bombing North Korea, he proposed talking with Pyongyang.
Whether Trump meant a summit, phone conversation, or diplomatic discussion is unclear. But Washington should propose diplomatic talks, whether or not ultimately capped by a presidential conversation.
After all, other approaches are a nonstarter or have failed. Military strikes likely would trigger serious retaliation and possibly full-scale war. Sanctions have inflicted pain but not changed Pyongyang’s policy.
Why engage? First, even paranoids have enemies. Diminishing its sense of threat would at least create a possibility that Pyongyang would respond favorably to American initiatives.
Second, while the DPRK almost certainly would not voluntarily dismantle its existing nuclear arsenal, it might be willing to accept restrictions on future developments and proliferation.
Third, enlisting China’s aid, meaning a willingness to cut energy and food assistance, thereby potentially threatening the survival of the North Korean state, remains a long-shot and requires a significant American initiative to engage the DPRK.
Fourth, America could use a window, however small, into the Hermit Kingdom. Negotiations would offer a peak.
Fifth, the DPRK desires direct talks with America. One reason may be the desire to balance against China, which Washington should encourage.
Of course, any talks should be conducted with realistic expectations. Pyongyang is hardly a model negotiating partner. But that doesn’t preclude a more limited agreement at least moderating Pyongyang’s threats.
No surprise, Trump’s proposal to talk is controversial. However, as I write in the Diplomat, despite a policy agenda highlighted by foolish and unrealistic proposals (starting trade wars and building walls, for instance), on Korea Donald Trump is right. Offering to talk with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un could help break today’s stalemate.