Trump speech lays cornerstone to US’ NK policy: experts

By Yeo Jun-suk

Published : Nov 9, 2017 - 18:48
Updated : Nov 9, 2017 - 18:48

US President Donald Trump’s lengthy speech about North Korea at the South Korean parliament appears to be laying the ideological cornerstone for his administration’s approach to the communist regime, analysts here said Thursday.

Despite the outspoken leader’s notably measured tone, what he said did not signal a change to the Trump administration’s existing approach toward the North, the experts added, suggesting Washington will not shift from its insistence on the North’s denuclearization as a precondition for talks.

In a shift in tone from aggressive and bombastic rhetoric, Trump delivered a somber warning to North Korea at the National Assembly here on Tuesday, proclaiming that he would maintain “peace through strength.” The president warned North Korea not to try US resolve, after condemning the North’s dismal human rights condition in great detail. 

US President Donald Trump at South Korea`s National Assembly (Yonhap)


“We understand there is assessment that Trump’s speech was a measured one compared to his previous remarks,” an official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry told reporters under the condition of customary anonymity.

North Korea, which has suspended military provocations since the last nuclear test and missile launch in September, has yet responded to Trump’s criticism of its leader Kim Jong-un’s “tyrant and fascistic” rule of “twisted and sinister” country, the official added.

Describing Trump’s speech as “historic,” the White House said on Thursday the president had sent a clear message that there will be no talks unless North Korea abandons its nuclear arsenal in a “complete and verifiable” manner.

“There is a brighter path that North Korea can walk if it begins walking down the path toward denuclearization,” said a senior White House official aboard Air Force One heading to China after wrapping up his 24-hour swing in South Korea.

The Trump administration has emphasized diplomatic solution to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea, but highlighted that a military option is on the table and it would enhance effectiveness of the pressuring campaign against the North.

But criticism has emerged that Trump’s bombastic and aggressive rhetoric has hampered the US military’s credibility, leading North Korea to believe it is an empty threat and has become more encouraged to stage provocations.

Chun Young-woo, former presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security during the previous Lee Myung-bak administration, said Trump’s parliamentary speech was more adult-like and would help US restore credibility.

“I think he delivered quite a successful message toward North Korea. It was a much more measured remark that can give more weight to the US dealing in with them,” said Chun, who also served as a chief negotiator for six party talks between 2006 and 2008.

“That being said, although he might have succeeded in formulating his message, what it contains is a separate issue. Throughout his every remark since taking office, there has been no change to the US fundamental approach toward the North,” Chun said.

During his two-day trip to South Korea, the once hard-mouthed President, who had threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and had dismissed dialogue with Pyongyang as a “waste of time,” took a restrained tone toward the North.

Including his joint press conference with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, there was no occasion in which he threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on the North. Nor did he use the derogatory term “Rocket man” to describe North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Lee Soo-hyuck, who served as top nuclear envoy for six-party talk between 2003 and 2005, agreed, saying the remark itself was an “elegant one worthy of the US president,” although it does not include substantial change to US strategy.

“There were rampant concerns that Trump would say something that could make South Korea feel uncomfortable. But overall, his speech was good and elegant. He really sounds like a US president,” Lee said in an interview with local broadcaster CBS.

“But I can’t see what we called ‘progresses’ on the US’ previous positions, at least on the surface… I had expected that he would announce a substantial message and new vision to resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue.”

By Yeo Jun-seok (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)

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