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Trump softens tone on N.K. but seen falling short of producing breakthrough: experts

All Headlines 19:13 November 08, 2017

SEOUL, Nov. 8 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump avoided harsh rhetoric and references to military options during his two-day visit to South Korea. Despite his unusual carefulness, experts here said Wednesday the trip fell short of producing a much-expected breakthrough in the nuclear standoff.

"I really believe that it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and to make a deal that's good for the people of North Korea and the people of the world," Trump said in a news conference on Tuesday after his summit with President Moon Jae-in.

Asked if there's any progress so far in U.S. policy to use pressure to bring the country to talks, Trump said, "I do see certain movement, yes. But let's see what happens."

Trump's summit with Moon came as the North Korean issue is seen at a crossroads.

North Korea has not conducted any nuclear or missiles tests in more than 50 days. Suspension of provocative action was part of prerequisites South Korea and the U.S. suggested for a resumption of dialogue where the communist regime could possibly secure economic assistance and lessening of international sanctions.

Both South Korean and U.S. officials have been increasingly meaning to capitalize on the hiatus to resume dialogue and bring in a breakthrough in the long-festering North Korean nuclear issue.

During his two-day trip in Seoul, Trump made a point of warning North Korea against further provocations and committing to defend South Korea and other allies from its threats.

"As we work together to resolve this problem using all available tools short of military action, the U.S. stands prepared to defend itself and its allies using the full range of our unmatched military capabilities if need be," he said in the news conference.

"We know we sent three of the largest aircraft carriers in the world, and they're right now positioned. We have a nuclear submarine also positioned... we hope to God we never have to use."

He stayed relatively low-profile about military options in comparison to his previous hard-line stance to use "fire and fury" if North Korea provokes, apparently trying to avoid triggering further enmity with the country.

"President Trump's message was very carefully chosen," a South Korean government official said. "He reaffirmed its strong deterrence against North Korea and the sanctions- and pressure-focused approach, but at the same time he issued a very balanced message of calling North Korea to the table."

Still, experts say Trump's visit fell short of actually opening the door to dialogue with North Korea.

"We will offer a path to a much better future. It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to your development of ballistic missiles, and complete, verifiable and total denuclearization," Trump said in his address to the National Assembly on Wednesday.

Complete and verifiable denuclearization has been the same condition for dialogue with North Korea with the former U.S. administration's unsuccessful North Korea policy and is a far cry from what North Korea holds as the condition for dialogue.

North Korea after all is not very likely to take Trump's offer, experts said.

"Talks and engagement work only when two parties recognize each other. But now the U.S. and North Korea both want the other to accept the frame they made and remain not interested in each other's demand," a former high-level government official said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. "The engagement policy style of the past is not working as both of them remain so."

There seem to be some lingering hope, though, as Trump begins a three-day visit to China where he will have a summit with President Xi Jinping. The Trump administration has been staking the success of its North Korea policy on the critical economic and political leverage China has over North Korea.


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