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(News Focus) Trump builds global consensus on N.K. pressure, sows confusion over policy

2018/01/18 09:08

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's first year in office established a global pressure campaign to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Many have credited the new administration with coordinating the international sanctions regime against Pyongyang.

But the year also left many alarmed over what they saw as inconsistent policies and reckless rhetoric toward the provocative regime.

As president-elect, Trump kicked off 2017 with a pledge not to let North Korea develop a nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. "It won't happen!" he tweeted.

In the months that followed, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fired off three intercontinental ballistic missiles with increasing capability and conducted the country's sixth test of a nuclear weapon.

The Trump administration responded with a growing list of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation -- under the "maximum pressure" campaign -- to force North Korea to commit to its denuclearization.

Among the sanctions led by the U.S. were three sets of U.N. Security Council resolutions that won the backing of China and Russia -- two countries that were previously reluctant to exert pressure on Pyongyang.

"Trump's major successes vis-a-vis (South Korea) is establishing a good working relationship with President Moon (Jae-in), recognizing that the North Korean nuclear threat is a top priority national security issue, and building global consensus on the need to isolate and pressure Pyongyang, particularly the two recent UNSC resolutions persuading China and Russia to agree to steps that will seriously disrupt the North Korean economy," said Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

But among Trump's failures is "his absurd tweeting filled with contradictory statements about North Korea, sowing confusion about what U.S. policies and intentions are," Manning said.

This compilation image shows an AFP file photo of U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap) This compilation image shows an AFP file photo of U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap)

The U.S. president took to Twitter to warn that his military is "locked and loaded;" boast that his "nuclear button" is bigger than Kim's; and dismiss Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang as a waste of time.

As high-level talks got under way between South and North Korea this year, he took credit for enabling them and tweeted, "Talks are a good thing!"

   The new year will likely see a continuation of the maximum pressure campaign, but a lot will depend on the North's behavior after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics in February and March, according to Frank Aum, senior expert on North Korea for the U.S. Institute of Peace and a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

"If we can get through the Winter Olympics and Paralympics without any North Korean provocations, I think it will demonstrate that North Korea might be a willing partner for negotiations," he said.

Still, he was skeptical of the prospect of U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks.

"I doubt that Pyongyang will agree to recommit to denuclearization," he said, noting that is one of Washington's preconditions for dialogue.

On the use of military options, which the Trump administration has repeatedly stated it is ready for, Aum offered two scenarios in which they could be used.

"I think some potential redlines are North Korea testing an ICBM missile with a live atmospheric nuclear detonation over international waters or North Korea proliferating nuclear materials or technology to rogue actors or nations," he said. "I'm not suggesting that these two actions will automatically trigger military options. I'm just saying that these two actions would be the most likely reasons why military options are considered."

   On the economic front, the Trump administration launched a renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, citing the U.S.'s growing trade deficit with Asia's fourth largest economy.

With the upcoming mid-term elections in November, the administration could be pressed to deliver results on its "America First" platform.

"We should expect the KORUS talks to be difficult, but potentially relatively short," said Troy Stangarone, senior director of congressional affairs and trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America.

One determining factor could be the parallel talks on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"If those talks drag on past the Mexican presidential election (in July), as President Trump has suggested, he may seek a quick resolution on the KORUS FTA to demonstrate a victory domestically in the administration's approach to trade," he said.

hague@yna.co.kr

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