Thursday , January 24 2019

Kim’s smiling sister exploits Trump-Moon divide over North Korea


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un deployed a new weapon at the Olympics to fight back against the Trump administration’s sanctions and threats of a preemptive strike against his nuclear program: His sister.
Kim Yo Jong shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, cheered enthusiastically for a unified Korean team, and displayed a sense of humor in weekend meetings. She also delivered a letter inviting Moon to a summit with her brother in Pyongyang, and asked him to play a “leading role” in reuniting the two Koreas after nearly seven decades.
The gesture sought to further exploit divisions between the US and South Korea, which differ on the best way to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons. It served as the focal point of a charm offensive designed to counter the US narrative that Kim Jong Un is a madman who tortures his own people and would blow up Los Angeles or New York City if he didn’t get his way.
North Korea’s participation in the Olympics has already allowed Kim Jong Un to undermine President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign, with some sanctions suspended temporarily until the event ends. In pushing for a summit with Moon, Kim is seeking to consolidate those gains while maintaining his nuclear arsenal to deter a US invasion.
‘Brilliant Maneuver’
The question now is whether the US and South Korea can stay united in keeping up the pressure on North Korea just as sanctions limiting export revenue and curbing fuel imports start to bite. While Trump’s advisers have threatened military action to prevent Kim from gaining the ability to strike the US homeland with a nuclear weapon, Moon is seeking to prevent a war that could devastate South Korea and the region.
Kim’s proposal for a summit was “a brilliant diplomatic maneuver,” said Andrei Lankov, a historian at Kookmin University in Seoul who once studied in Pyongyang. Moon would irritate Trump if he accepts the invitation, while declining would make the US and South Korea appear “unreasonably bellicose,” he said.
“The proposal, as well as North Korea’s presence at the Games, sends a signal that the North Koreans are ready to talk,” Lankov said. “And this signal helps the opponents of a military operation in Washington and elsewhere.”
Signs of discord in the US-South Korea alliance were evident immediately after the announcement. Moon’s office initially provided conflicting accounts of whether he accepted the invitation, with a Blue House spokesperson later clarifying that pre-conditions first needed to be met.
US Vice President Mike Pence didn’t discuss the invitation with Moon on Saturday while they watched a speed-skating event, a senior White House official said. Speaking to reporters later aboard Air Force One, Pence reiterated that there was “no daylight” between the US, South Korea and Japan in pushing to isolate North Korea until Kim abandons his nuclear program.
But North Korea watchers aren’t convinced that Moon will stay on script. He came to power promising a softer approach to Pyongyang and has repeatedly sought a summit with Kim Jong Un. Moon initially opposed US plans to deploy a missile shield in South Korea, and last year vowed to prevent war at all costs after Trump threatened “fire and fury” against North Korea.
“I worry he won’t want to miss the opportunity to further a new ‘sunshine policy’ and peace engagement,” Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, said of the South Korean leader. “Going to Pyongyang unconditionally would be a really bad development.”

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