WASHINGTON — Sometimes diplomacy is the art of going in two directions at once, and the Trump administration seems to have chosen that sweet spot of ambiguity, for now, in managing its continuing confrontation with North Korea.
President Donald Trump has paused his “Little Rocket Man” rhetoric and boasts about the size of his own nuclear button. He's insisted in the past week that talk of a U.S. military strike (which he had encouraged) is “completely wrong,” and called for discussions with North Korea “under the right circumstances.”
A fragile detente seems to have begun. North Korea hasn't tested weapons in more than a month and is talking to the South. North Korean athletes and spectators will attend the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The U.S. has delayed scheduled military exercises until after the last gold medal is awarded. Call it speed-skater diplomacy, if you like, but the table for negotiations has at least been set.
Trump administration diplomacy is like the oft-quoted description of New England weather: If you don't like it, wait awhile. But at least through late February, we're likely to experience a thaw on the Korean Peninsula, and it's interesting to explore what it means.> >
Trump argues that his nuclear brinkmanship over the past year has worked. “Does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn't firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might' against the North,” he tweeted Jan. 4. Trump famously likes to be flattered, and Moon this week wisely lauded his “huge contribution” to peace talks.
Who has blinked here? It's hard to argue that it's Kim. The mutual stand-down for the Olympics looks very much like the “freeze for freeze” approach that Russia and China were recommending last year, although U.S. officials resist the characterization.
For all Trump's bluster and self-congratulation, the past month's diplomacy really has been a Korean show, with Kim and Moon both showing considerable finesse. Kim gave his New Year's speech with the confidence of a member of the nuclear club, but he was also deferential toward Seoul. Moon responded avidly, but he also kept faith with Washington by stressing that diplomacy must eventually encompass denuclearization.
What the Trump administration can take credit for is building a robust international coalition around the demand that North Korea must eventually give up its nuclear weapons. Russia and China have joined in a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea, and this slow squeeze is beginning to hurt. Diplomats report the beginnings of food shortages in North Korea, and China is sending some North Korean workers back home.
Tillerson meets in Canada Monday through Wednesday with diplomats from countries that sent troops to fight the Korean War nearly 70 years ago. That gathering is meant to signal global solidarity and resolve. But it will also highlight the failure of the U.S.-led coalition, so far, to stop North Korea from becoming a de-facto nuclear power.
A pause for the Olympics, and then, alas, the crisis resumes.
Washington Post Writers Group
David Ignatius is a Washington Post columnist.>
Source : http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-olympics-north-korea-nuclear-crisis-0116-20180112-story.html