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March 5, 2018
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A medal for diplomacy

Opinion

March 5, 2018

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Without even winning a Bronze at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, North Korea ended up amassing almost all the medals at its own Pyongyang diplomatic games. The remaining medals were won by Moon Jae-in by risking his presidency for the ‘peace Olympics’.

Despite a spectacular display of fireworks drawing the event in South Korea to a close, it was instead Kim Jong-un’s adroit diplomatic steps that became the talk of the town. For the 17 days athletes, from around the world, were braving freezing temperatures to wage their battles for medals, the US president and supreme leader of North Korea were busy scoring political goals. It is interesting to analyse how a condemned leader exploited this opportunity to appear as a symbol of peace and make the superpower follow into his footsteps. However, it is equally important to see if this art of diplomacy has any potential to prevail.

A month before the Olympics, Kim had extended an olive branch to his estranged neighbour. Quite tactically, he sent Kim Yong-nam, the ceremonial president of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly – hardly known to the world before then – to attend the Winter Olympics. But despite it being the first visit of a high-ranking officer of the North to the South, the South Korean media focused on Kim’s charismatic younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, deliberately included in the delegation as a charm offensive. In contrast, Donald Trump opted for the traditional approach and sent his hawkish vice president.

Overnight, Kim Yo-jong became a celebrity and the country that had hosted US President Trump a few months ago happily covered her each and every gesture. On the other hand, Mike Pence had nothing new to offer other than rhetoric, which was already well-received by Seoul and so made not more than a few headlines. But Yo touched many a hearts when as first vice director of the Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she handed a letter to South Korean President Moon, inviting him for a summit with Marshal Kim and prove that he is sticking by his election campaign promise to visit Pyongyang if invited.

Watching Kim’s propaganda machine work at its peak, Trump found himself with a few options. However, he followed the ‘little rocket man’s’ strategy and sent his charming daughter Ivanka to grace the closing ceremony. But the move was too little too late as the South Koreans were already mesmerised by a smiling Yo. She skilfully avoided even glancing at Pence, who was seated just in the front row, as both watched the ceremony. However,Pence, in his own right, went on to meet the North Korean defectors and called Kim’s rule a ‘murderous dictatorship’. This gave Yo and the delegation an excuse to scrap the hurriedly arranged direct talks with the US. Did Pyongyang admit to its mistakes when it showed its willingness to talk to the United States at the closing ceremony, or was it merely a ploy? This can also be viewed through another prism, by ascertaining why Vice President Pence chose to adopt a contentious course?

The tone of piling maximum pressure on Pyongyang was set by Donald Trump long before he came into power. He had advocated a nuclear Seoul and Tokyo in the UN, and threatened to totally destroy North Korea. In November, while visiting Japan, South Korea and China, his mind remained occupied with Kim.. Only upgrading the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles will cost South Korea $53 million.

Trump also wanted another ally, Japan, to buy US-made missile defence systems. He was basically on a campaign trail for the Pentagon and armament manufacturers to sell weapons worth billions of dollars to reduce trade deficit and attract investment to create thousands of jobs back home.

On the one side, Kim is bent upon advancing the nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programmes and prove that he is the rightful successor to his father and grandfather’s legacy. The supreme leader has left no room to say ‘no’ in his dynasty.

And on the other side, in Washington, the majority of key figures are advocating for a ‘bloody nose’ strategy to be employed against North Korea. The US National Security Advisor General McMaster is pushing for military options, whereas CIA Director Mike Pompeo is suggesting every non-diplomatic way possible to take North Korea down. Even Pompeo’s predecessor, Brennan, was convinced that the possibility of a war was too high. Although Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson are favouring a diplomatic push, they have also asked Trump to ensure that the US remains prepared for anything.

So, what would the cost be if the situation ends in a war? If estimates are to be believed, the war will cost no less than $3 trillion, plus the global trickle-down impact. Former president Bush had projected that the Iraq War would only cost around $50 billion but as per the latest estimates, the final bill was not less than $5 trillion. The war resulted in the deaths of millions of Iraqis and around 3,000 coalition forces. If handled in a way other than a controlled regime change, a war in the Korean Peninsula may perish millions including thousands of foreigners.

Even though, Pence and Ivanka did not meet North Korean officials, a low-level meeting between Allison Hooker, an official of the US National Security Council, and Choe Kang-il, the deputy director general for North American affairs at the North Korean Foreign Ministry in Pyeongchang, has the potential to serve as an icebreaker. It is time Trump let Moon meet Kim to sort out differences bilaterally and pave the way for direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

One can fancy the idea that Ivanka and Yo meet by a diplomatic miracle, but the hard reality is that except Jimmy Carter, no US president has been able to evade war. Trump knows that initiating a war against a country labelled the ‘axis of evil’ by ex-president Bush can divert attention from scandals surrounding him and his presidency. And if the pattern of sanctions hold any meaning, it is highly likely that he will cash in on the opportunity.

The writer is a senior journalist associated with Geo News.

Email: [email protected]

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