KOREA NEWS Report about Trump’s North Korea plan stokes worries in...

Report about Trump’s North Korea plan stokes worries in South

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Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Coralville, Iowa, Wednesday (local time). A Politico report that Trump may abandon the policy goal of seeking the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula if he regains the White House has stoked security worries in South Korea. Reuters-Yonhap

His win may prompt Pyongyang to return to dialogue: experts

By Jung Min-ho

A Politico report that Donald Trump may abandon the long-held policy goal of seeking the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula if he regains the White House has stoked security worries in South Korea.

Citing three people familiar with his thinking, the U.S. media outlet reported on Wednesday (local time) that Trump is highly motivated to make a peace deal with North Korea if he wins another term next year. One of the ideas Trump is weighing, according to the sources, involves enticing the regime to freeze its nuclear program and stop developing new weapons, in return for the lifting of sanctions and financial aid.

In a Truth Social post made hours after the report, Trump dismissed it as a made-up story created to “mislead and confuse.” But he added that “one thing accurate in the story” is that — in the form of present tense — he gets along well with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Speaking to The Korea Times on Thursday, experts said such a scenario isn’t unrealistic given growing voices in Washington that managing the threat with a disarmament deal would be more pragmatic than seeking North Korea’s complete denuclearization. They added it would be possible under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as long as the United States does not officially recognize the rogue state as a nuclear power.

“If Trump returns to power and pursues such a deal, the policy may gain some traction given the seemingly increasing number of Republican politicians and Washington insiders who are supportive of it,” said Chung Sung-yoon, a senior analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-funded think tank.

“His win would likely prompt North Korea to return to the negotiating table.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un walks toward U.S. President Donald Trump in the Joint Security Area of the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjeom, in this file photo from June 30, 2019. AFP-Yonhap

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un walks toward U.S. President Donald Trump in the Joint Security Area of the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjeom, in this file photo from June 30, 2019. AFP-Yonhap

But experts expressed skepticism that the new round of Trump-Kim talks would produce any successful result. North Korea has said it won’t accept any bargains over its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic incentives. If Pyongyang decides to talk, it would likely be part of its efforts to gain its long-coveted recognition from the U.S. as a nuclear weapons state, they said.

Once the disarmament negotiation begins, Chung believes the regime would promote it as a de facto acknowledgement of its nuclear status by Washington and demand the suspension of the U.S.’ joint military drills with Seoul and withdrawal of its forces in South Korea among others.

It is unclear how such negotiation would end. What’s clear is that North Korea would prefer Trump over the current president, Joe Biden, who has maintained the standard U.S. position on the issue in close coordination with South Korea and other allies, according to Ko Young-hwan, a former North Korean diplomat.

“North Korea appears to have viewed Trump, unlike Biden, as a person it can at least try to make a deal with,” he said. “While pinning its hopes on his return to power, North Korea will likely continue to develop its weapons program, particularly nuclear capabilities, until then to have greater bargaining power.”

For South Korea, Trump’s possible presidency would require a sense of realism in its security and defense policies as it cannot accept either of the suggested end results — Washington’s official or tacit recognition of North Korea’s nuclear status.

“If Trump indeed gives that recognition, a majority of South Korean people would take it as the U.S.’ betrayal,” said Cheong Seong-chang, an expert on North Korea at the Sejong Institute, a think tank.

But Chung also believes Trump’s return to office could be an opportunity for South Korea to reassess its geopolitical reality that it cannot depend on its main ally for its defense forever.

“When North Korea is rapidly developing it nuclear and missile capabilities, we just trust the words of Biden,” he said. “A possible second Trump presidency would force South Korea and other allies like Japan to face the reality that they must be able to defend themselves.”

 

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