Continuing to ratchet up the rhetoric on North Korea, President Trump once again disavowed assurances from his cabinet that the goal is a diplomatic solution, declaring today that “talking is not the answer” and claiming the US has been “paying them extortion money for 25 years.”
Trump did not elaborate on this claim, and that fueled considerable speculation about what exactly this “extortion money” was. The best guess seems to be that he was referring to humanitarian food aid the US has intermittently provided to North Korea in the past.
Either way, the more significant part is that President Trump, for the umpteenth time since taking office, has rejected the idea of talking with North Korea, a narrative which combined with his constant threats to attack North Korea has fueled major concern of an imminent war.
It’s also undercut the rest of his cabinet. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking Sunday, described the US strategy on North Korea as exerting “peaceful pressure” to try to get them to the negotiating table. Secretary of Defense James Mattis insisted today that the US is “never out of diplomatic solutions” and still discussing possible avenues to make a deal.
While Trump’s comments aren’t in keeping with his cabinet’s, they at the very least seem more honest on his administration’s approach to North Korea, as repeated efforts by China and South Korea to get the US to the negotiating table have been dismissed out of hand, and proposals that would see North Korea scrapping their nuclear and missile testing programs for a drawdown in the US military buildup along their southern border was spurned as unacceptable from the US perspective because it involved them having to make any concessions at all to get much larger concessions from the North.
Far from exploring myriad diplomatic options, the US seems to be betting the house on either managing to somehow convince North Korea to unilaterally disarm amid US threats to attack, or see tensions continue to skyrocket until a disastrous war results.