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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 7)

All News 07:04 February 07, 2020

Trump and N. Korea
'Strategic indifference' signifies cautious stance

While many of the headlines after U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address, Tuesday, were about his war of nerves with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, highlighted by her ripping up a copy of the text of the speech, what was also intriguing to us was that he made no mention of North Korea.

Given that he dealt with North Korea as one of his foreign policy priorities in his two previous State of the Union speeches, this was exceptional. But it had not been entirely unexpected as the nuclear disarmament talks with Pyongyang have remained in the doldrums since the failure of the last negotiations in Sweden in October.

In a way, Trump's silence on North Korea could be a hopeful sign considering that he didn't go so far as to vilify it as he did in his first State of the Union speech in 2018. At the time, he called North Korea a "depraved" and "brutal dictatorship," vowing to break from the mistakes of past administrations. Among those invited to the speech were a North Korean defector on crutches, Ji Seong-ho, who highlighted the North's brutal treatment of its own people, and the parents of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died in 2017 after being detained in North Korea for more than a year.

Then there was the historic first summit between Trump and Kim in June 2018, and the U.S. president used the State of the Union address in 2019 to announce his second summit with Kim, saying he maintains a "good" relationship with the North Korean leader and that the U.S. would have been at war with the North if he hadn't been elected.

One positive thing about Trump "strategically ignoring" Pyongyang in this year's speech is that he appears cautious about dealing with North Korea. The North also remains surprisingly calm even though the self-imposed year-end deadline for a new U.S. approach to the denuclearization talks has passed.

The Senate's acquittal of Trump, Wednesday, of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, which thus ended his impeachment trial, also bodes well for the resumption of dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea will probably remain as a risky bet for Trump until the presidential election in November, so it is too early to predict how the situation will unfold. But presumably, Trump and Kim may still be exchanging letters. It is not unimaginable at all that Trump may attempt to use peace talks with Pyongyang to boost his chances given that he has touted North Korea's suspension of nuclear and missile tests as one of his biggest foreign policy achievements.

Trump's National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said in a meeting with foreign ambassadors in Washington, D.C. after the Senate vote that the U.S. president remains committed to the denuclearization talks with North Korea regardless of U.S. domestic politics. South Korean Ambassador Lee Soo-hyuck reportedly asked O'Brien if he believes the North will return to negotiations before the November presidential race, and received the answer: "We hope they will come back to the table, come back to Sweden and meet with us."

Hopefully, a new era will open for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

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