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U.S. ‘pressure and engagement’ policy

Posted April. 28, 2017 07:15,   

Updated April. 28, 2017 08:29


The Donald Trump administration on Wednesday (local time) announced a new policy on the North Korean nuclear issue that can be summarized as “maximum pressure and engagement.” In a joint statement announced after a behind-closed-door briefing for all members of Congress, the administration said, “The president's approach aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners.” It also stressed that while the U.S. remains open to negotiations towards that goal, it is also prepared to defend the U.S. and its allies. The administration has made it clear that it will put priority on seeking stability and the peaceful denuclearization of North Korea but will not rule out military options.

The joint statement was announced by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. It was unprecedented for senior U.S. officials in charge of foreign affairs, defense and intelligence to announce a North Korea policy through a joint statement. The statement added that Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is “an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority.” It was the first time that the U.S. government defined the North Korean nuclear issue as top priority. The previous administrations’ top priorities were on the Middle East or Central Asia, including Afghanistan. The Obama administration’s top priority was to resolve the Iran nuclear issue.

U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry Harris Jr. told the House Armed Services Commission: “Just as Thomas Edison is believed to have failed 1,000 times before successfully inventing the light bulb, so, too, Kim Jong Un will keep trying. One of these days soon, he will succeed (in developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles).” The Trump administration suggested that it would not stand by and watch North Korea develop nuclear missiles that would threaten the mainland U.S. within Trump’s term in office. In U.S. polls, Americans view North Korea as their No. 1 enemy. The U.S. sense of crisis and that much stronger determination to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue provides a golden opportunity for South Korea.

The Trump administration is well aware that China’s cooperation is essential in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. However, Beijing remains lukewarm. During a visit to Germany on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi insisted on simultaneous pursuit of a Korean Peninsula denuclearization process and Washington-Pyongyang peace negotiations and on a halt to both the North Korean nuclear provocation and the Seoul-Washington joint military exercises. Washington is expected to use both sticks and carrots on China to win its cooperation. South Korea’s next administration, which will be launched on May 10, should also keep pace with the U.S. policy toward China as an ally. If Seoul fails to do so and blow away a rare opportunity by disrupting the U.S. pressure on North Korea and China, South Korea could end up being held hostage by a nuclear-armed North Korea before long.