Abby Bard, Blaine Johnson
Seoul is often unsure where Trump stands—and if he really has South Korea’s back.
Earlier this week, for the first time in two years, North and South Korea held official high-level government talks. This diplomatic engagement could be a great opportunity—for leaders of both capitals, for their citizens who are worried about becoming collateral damage in the event of conflict, and for the stability of the whole region. However, U.S. president Donald Trump could easily blow up this chance with his provocative statements and inconsistent support for the South Korean government.
For months, Trump has been undermining diplomatic options on the Korean Peninsula. He has repeatedly escalated warmongering rhetoric. He has said that negotiating with North Korea is a waste of time. Just last month, the White House walked back Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s commitment to talks without preconditions.
Then, at the beginning of the new year, Trump suddenly stopped pooh-poohing diplomacy. He tweeted that, “talks are good.” In a phone call with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, he expressed that the United States would be open to talks, “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances.” While this is a welcome rhetorical shift, there is concern that it will not be a lasting one.
Whether Trump supports talks or not, almost any conversation between the two Koreas is better than none. At the least, conversation can reduce the chances of accidental conflict or avoidable military escalation. At best, such conversations are the first step towards peacefully resolving their differences.