The United States and South Korea took a tentative step toward peace with Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime this week, but whether or not diplomacy can yield any lasting results is yet to be seen.

Although the focus of Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address for many was his quip about a “nuclear button,” Kim also extended what could be seen as a bit of an olive branch to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.  According to the North Korean leader’s speech, he hoped to improve ties with his country’s estranged neighbor, and requested a meeting between North and South Korean officials to discuss North Korea’s participation in the upcoming Olympics, being held in South Korea.

Moon, who has been calling for an open dialogue with Kim since taking office last year, quickly proposed talks in the border village of Panmunjom, set for next Tuesday.  Then, on Wednesday, a cross border hotline between the two nations was brought back on line, establishing a single link of communication between the two states.  Most important, however, was likely Thursday’s announcement that South Korea and the United States would hold off on continued military exercises until after the Olympic events.

Last month, American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson publicly stated that the United States was willing to engage in diplomatic talks with North Korea “any time,” but the response from both Kim’s regime and the White House seemed to indicate that neither country was prepared to do so.  Kim and his regime showed no signs of interest in meeting with the U.S.’ top diplomat, however, that could have been in part a result of the White House quickly undercutting Tillerson’s proposal.

While Tillerson seemed to be suggesting talks could begin without North Korea fulfilling any form of behavioral prerequisites, White House staff quickly contradicted Tillerson’s stance, mandating that Kim’s regime “fundamentally improves its behavior,” before they’d be willing to engage on a national level.

“As the secretary of state himself has said, this must include, but is not limited to, no further nuclear or missile tests.” White House officials said.

South Korean President Moon receives rare invite from Kim

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It would seem, however, that Kim may have found a loophole in the Trump administration’s mandate.  By choosing to engage with America’s closest ally in the diplomatic conflict, South Korea, Kim can pursue a de-escalation of tensions without having to appeal to the American president, who has made repeated statements indicating that he feels as though diplomacy with North Korea is a futile endeavor.

That is, of course, assuming Kim wants peace, which would have to involve a willingness to end all banned nuclear and ballistic missile testing, and if the United States is unwilling to waiver in their expectations, a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.  While it’s unclear what Kim’s intentions are as they enter into these extremely low-level talks next week, few suspect Kim would be willing to go so far.

“I think what is important is to maintain a firm defense posture,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a news conference in Tokyo on Friday.

“North Korea goes through phases of apparent dialogue and provocation but either way, North Korea is continuing its nuclear and missile development. We have no intention of weakening our warning and surveillance.”

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press