Friday, September 8, 2017


North Korea is the other Rubik's Cube (with the Middle East). The United States has no "point man" who might try to disentangle the threads. The EU is powerless as usual. The countries more directly concerned, South Korea, China and Japan, do share a same concern but differ on the means to address the problem. Russia has the luxury to make apocalyptic statements.

Washington has plenty of possible envoys or diplomats. First among many, Ambassador Christopher Hill, who could clear the ground from miscalculation ante, but this administration is always unwilling to call upon prior experience or  continuity which precedes it. The president's usual utterances have become the new diplomatic vernacular. His stated modus operandi, not to announce what is on his mind, doesn't fool anyone, nor does it deter.  Here, as elsewhere, there is no coherent policy or intellectual effort to try regulating the various modes of worries which separate the 'high' anxiety (South Korea) from the 'medium.' 

It appears more and more likely that a nuclear, megalomaniac North Korea is here to stay for the foreseeable future and that for now only what might still be attainable should be pursued : Pyongyang cannot be allowed to proliferate. Besides, North Korea will only enter talks if the Trump administration sticks with the Iran deal. If that deal were to collapse, North Korea will again call America's bluff and consider Trump untrustworthy. It will have some form of a win/win deck of cards, since the other parties to the Iran deal would feel betrayed.  Only if the deal is left standing, might talks be considered...maybe.

In the longer term there is no alternative than to sit around a table and negotiate. Before considering a US/North Korea bilateral, it would be wise to explore a formula and an agenda which take into account the various degrees of direct interest of all participants. After all, the positions of all are well known but the difficulty lies in the versatility of accommodation. The Americans want a denuclearized Korean peninsula now. The Chinese and the Russians see this as part of a larger normalization, with moves from both  North (a freeze?) and South (suspension of military maneuvers with the US).  Besides, the Chinese want stability at any price.  South Korea will be tempted to resume the "sunshine policy".  Japan is the closest to the American view but this is more linked to the personality of P.M. Abe than to a consensus.

Time is a non-friendly medium. The North Koreans are achieving their qualitative and quantitative goals (nuclear and ICBM). Cyber sabotage might cause delays but it will fail to arrest what has become the raison d'etre of a regime. Trump cannot be relied upon. His immature mood swings should be feared. A big mouth is not a big stick.  The  conditions for a start-up for new talks are far from ideal, but there is no alternative, even in the knowledge that Pyongyang is not considering any form of roll-back now. Another problem is that this American administration still has not chosen the personnel and diplomatic expertise which are needed. Trump being Trump, he might well ask another member of his "close circle" to step in, or ask Dennis Rodman to "straighten things out".  After all, the retired basketball player calls Kim Jong Un just a "regular guy" and he should know!

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