By Jonathan Davis
Without question, President Donald Trump has made more diplomatic headway with North Korea than any president since the Korean War.
But his progress has been limited primarily to meet-and-greet photo ops with leader Kim Jong-un. That’s not a criticism of the president, just an acknowledgement of the reality of the situation.
Yes, North Korea has made some gestures toward denuclearization, which is the Trump administration’s objective, but must of that, too, has been posturing.
In recent weeks as a self-imposed end-of-the-year deadline to restart substantive talks approaches, North Korea has been ramping up nuclear and missile testing sites once again, likely in anticipation that the Trump administration isn’t going to cave on sanctions, which is what Kim wants.
So there has been some talk of a “Christmas surprise” from North Korea even as rhetoric from the regime once again turns bellicose.
Washington Examiner national security correspondent Jaime McIntyre, in his Thursday morning email newsletter, wrote:
As U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun returns to Washington empty-handed after stops in Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing, there is growing bipartisan concern that the U.S. is headed for another confrontation with North Korea over its refusal to take substantial steps to dismantling its nuclear arsenals, as Kim Jong Un promised last year.
That concern was on display yesterday at a Capitol Hill news conference called to tout new tougher sanctions against North Korea banking contained in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, just passed by the Senate, and which could be signed by President Trump as soon as today.
Republican Senators Pat Toomey and Rob Portman, and Democrats Chris Van Hollen and Sherrod Brown said it’s time to turn up the heat on Pyongyang. “It seems to me the best chance we have in changing the path North Korea is on is with crippling sanctions. The current sanctions regime is not enough,” said Toomey.
In addition, eight Democratic senators have sent a critical letter to the president expressing “grave and growing concern” that his efforts to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula “appear to be stalled and on the brink of failure.”
Well, of course they are critical of the president’s efforts; they’re Democrats and their House counterparts just impeached Trump.
But realistically, while the president has made history by actually meeting with Kim and once on North Korean soil, denuclearization was probably never going to happen, anyway.
So, politics aside, the administration and the Pentagon are no doubt preparing for a return to the status quo: More bellicosity on the part of the North Korean regime; more missile tests; additional nuclear weapons development.
Gen. Charles Brown commander of Pacific Air Forces and air component commander for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told The Hill on Tuesday that the “gift” could be a resumption of long-range missile tests.
“What I would expect is some type of long-range ballistic missile would be the gift. It’s just a matter of does it come on Christmas Eve, does it come on Christmas Day, does it come after the New Year,” Brown said.
He later added that the threat could relate to other possibilities.
“I think there’s a range of things that could occur,” he told reporters at a roundtable breakfast. “I think there’s also the possibility that the self-imposed moratorium [on long-range tests] may go away and nothing happens right away. [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] announces it but then doesn’t shoot.”