Friday, April 27, 2018
North and South Korea Shake Hands and Are Talking -- Thank you, President Trump
THERE IS ONLY ONE NEWS STORY TODAY. • • • NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA MEET. North and South Korea held an historic meeting at the Demilitarized Zone between the two countries on Friday and agreed on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The two men met and shook hands, then crossed back and forth over the DMZ line in an expression of what seems like a sincere effort to reduce hostilities. The North and South Korean leaders agreed to a framework that could finally bring peace to the peninsula and potentially end decades of tension between the Hermit Kingdom and the rest of the world. The joint announcement stated that both sides will work toward a "nuclear-free Korean Peninsula" and try to officially end the Korean War. South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un -- who, fewer than four months ago, threatened the United States with nuclear weapons -- also planted a pine tree using soil and water form both countries and unveiled a stone plaque placed next to the tree that was engraved with a message saying "Peace and Prosperity Are Planted." • The Kim Jong Un who declared in a stark New Year's address that a nuclear launch button is "always on my table" continued his recent, startling push for peace during his meeting with Moon Jae-In. Both nations agreed to hold further high-level talks and other negotiations, including the planned joint talks with the US, and also potentially China. The two Koreas, which have technically remained at war since 1950-1953 when the Korean War was stopped via an armistice, have agreed to stop all hostile acts over "land, sea and air" that can cause military tensions and clashes. Fox News reported that : "The two leaders announced that starting May 1, all loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts that have been blaring at each other across their heavily-armed border will be suspended. They will also dismantle broadcasting equipment and stop flying propaganda leaflets across their border. Earlier Friday, Kim told Moon that he feels like he’s 'firing a flare at the starting line in the moment of [the two Koreas], writing a new history in North-South relations, peace and prosperity.' Kim also promised Moon he 'won't interrupt' his 'early morning sleep anymore,' a somewhat joking reference to North Korea's troubling intercontinental ballistic missile tests, South Korea said. • It was the first time a member of the Kim dynasty was known to set foot on South Korean soil since 1953. • The summit concluded with the leaders signing an agreement and delivering a joint statement before dinner. The banquet was held on the South's side, with a menu as symbolic as the other rituals of the day. Kim was served the Swiss potato dish rösti -- a nod to his time studying in Switzerland -- along with the North's signature dish of cold noodles, and a North Korean liquor. Kim was accompanied by nine officials, including his powerful and influential sister Kim Yo-jong. • The summit has drawn careful responses from around the world. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he welcomes the summit but doesn't expect any major breakthroughs : "I am very encouraged by what's happening. I don't think that anybody looking at the history of North Korea's plans to develop a nuclear weapon would want to be over-optimistic at this point." China has welcomed the summit, saying it applauds the countries' leaders for taking an "historic step" toward peace. • BUT, it was overwhelmingly President Trump's victory. He tweeted : "After a furious year of missile launches and Nuclear testing, a historic meeting between North and South Korea is now taking place. Good things are happening, but only time will tell!" • It was President Trump, whose aggressive rhetoric and posture -- and his ability to bring China into the Korean stand-off on the side of denuclearization -- who many analysts credit with bringing North Korea to the bargaining table. And, the President encouraged Japan and South Korea to engage in serious diplomatic efforts to soften North Korean Kim Jong-un's sabre-rattling posture by inviting his athletes to the South Korean Winter Olympic Games. Then Mike Pompeo -- then CIA Director an now the US Secretary of State -- made a secret trip to Pyongyang over Easter and that seemd to open the floodgate. • The British seem to be taking the skeptical path. Not only did Boris Johnson say htat he doesn't expect major breakthroughs, but the BBC said the summit came : "just months after warlike rhetoric from North Korea. Much of what the summit will focus on has been agreed in advance, but many analysts remain sceptical about the North's apparent enthusiasm for engagement." • Whatever the skeptics say, the meeting was both historic and promising. Topics discussed included nuclear technology, sanctions, and separated families, and is being seen as an opportunity to foster economic co-operation. Kim, ahead of talks with Moon at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom, wrote in the guest book, "A new history begins now." • The next major step in this complex diplomatic ballet will be the arrangements for and actual meeting between Kim and Trump. The White House has expressed hope that the talks will achieve progress towards peace ahead the meeting between Kim and President Trump being planned for the coming weeks. That would be an unprecedented occurrence in this history of hostility and extreme nuclear danger. South Korea has warned that a deal to rid Pyongyang of its nuclear weapons will be "difficult" to achieve. But, Kim announced last week that he was suspending nuclear tests. The move was welcomed by the US and South Korea, although the BBC reported that Chinese researchers have indicated that North Korea's nuclear test site may be unusable after a rock collapse following its last nuclear test. • Under Kim, the development of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs has continued on what appears to be an acccelerated timeline. Four more nuclear tests have taken place, bringing the regime's total to six. Pyongyang claims it has successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that could be loaded on to a long-range missile, but experts remain divided on how advanced that program -- or the missile development program -- is. North Korea's missiles' reach has seemed to increase, with the regime test-firing several missiles in 2017 and claiming it had tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the US. That led to heightened tensions with the Trump administration and intensified UN sanctions against North Korea, with the two men hurling insults at each other. Trump called Kim a "rocket man on a suicide mission" while Kim called Trump a "mentally deranged US dotard." • Yet, unexpectedly, Kim offered an olive branch to South Korea in his new year's address, saying he was "open to dialogue" and might send a team to the February 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. After a flurry of diplomatic activity, the two Koreas marched under one flag in the Olympic opening ceremony, and high-level meetings took place between the two sides. • In April, it came as a shock when Kim said he had suspended all missile tests and would shut down a nuclear test site, because his country had achieved "nuclear weaponisation." The halt was welcomed, but observers pointed out that Pyongyang had not pledged to get rid of its existing weapons, and has previously broken promises to halt nuclear development. • Only time, talk, and action will tell whether Kim Jong-un is sincere or just buying time and hoping for a relaxation of the sanctions -- especially now that China has joined in the sanctions -- again through Trump's aggressive cajoling -- and has reduced both banking facilities for Kim's hard currency needs and petroleum for his energy deficits. • Kim Jong-un and China must be fully aware that when President Trump speaks, he means what he says. His threats are not the empty words of prior US administrations. They can also be sure that when Donald Trump promises to do something -- whether for good or bad -- he follows through. Kim is standing at the door of a unique opportunity to join the world community and free his people from their impoverished slavery. President Trump has promised to make it happen. What remains now, as his friend Dennis Rodman would say, is for Kim to step up to the foul line and toss the basketball through the hoop.