All of a sudden, North Korea and South Korea are two old chums singing kumbaya with each other, and the United States is on the outside looking in.
The countries are holding their first talks in two years ahead of the Winter Olympics, which take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February. North Korea has promised to send a delegation to the games, which counts as a major diplomatic breakthrough. (Perhaps even more excitingly, the country will also send “a cheering squad and a performance-art troupe.”)
And Kim Jong-un’s hermetic dictatorship apparently wants to assure the rest of the world that it doesn’t have any serious beef with its southern neighbor — just with America.
On Tuesday morning, a North Korean official said that the country’s weapons were pointed only at the United States, not at South Korea, Russia, or China. The official also said that North Korea’s rapidly expanding nuclear program is not an issue between North and South Korea.
These claims are almost assuredly false, but are signs that Kim wants to position himself as a stable and serious negotiating partner with his neighbor, at least for the moment. As with many of the dictator’s actions, his motivations are not entirely clear. North Korea may eventually be angling for direct talks with the United States in order to ease the crippling sanctions that continue to squeeze the country, but it’s not clear how more incendiary rhetoric would achieve that.
In his New Year’s Eve speech, the North Korean leader threatened that he could press a “nuclear button” from his desk that would activate missiles capable of hitting mainland United States. (The reality is a bit more complicated.) President Trump responded by boasting that his nuclear button was bigger.
President Trump’s unhinged tough talk over the past few months — he has threatened to destroy North Korea with “fire and fury,” among other things — seems to have led to a perverse outcome: drawing the two Koreas closer to each other, while freezing out the United States.
But Trump took credit for the new North/South dialogue on Saturday, saying, “If I weren’t involved they wouldn’t be talking about the Olympics right now. They’d be doing no talking or it would be much more serious.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has concurred with that view.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is reportedly debating the wisdom of launching a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea that would “hopefully” not lead to nuclear war.
Just another calm day on the Korean Peninsula.