North Korea

Dialogue is always preferable to conflict

While the Trump administration has surely confused North Korea about American intentions in the showdown between the two nations, the US president and his team must tread warily as military action will bring only tragedy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 May, 2017, 12:51am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 May, 2017, 12:51am

Donald Trump has surely confused North Korea about American intentions. The US president and his senior officials have for weeks been talking tough, alluding to military action and even sending an aircraft carrier to the Korean peninsula. But he has of late changed tack, referring to the isolated nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as a “smart cookie” and saying he would be “honoured” to meet him in the right circumstances. Unpredictability has been a hallmark of the Trump administration, although of one matter there can be no dispute: dialogue is always preferable to conflict.

There is no certainty that what Trump says will come to pass; the White House clarified the president’s comments by contending that before talks could be considered, Pyongyang would have to meet many conditions. With the North last weekend conducting a second failed ballistic missile launch in as many weeks and presumed to be planning a sixth nuclear bomb test, there would seem to be no likelihood of talks any time soon. Pyongyang has further complicated matters with the first direct state media criticism of China in years for “dancing to the tune of the US”, an apparent reference to support for tougher sanctions being pushed by Washington at the UN Security Council.

‘Major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible, but diplomacy first, Trump says

The commentary has unleashed counter-attacks in China’s state media, although the Foreign Ministry has downplayed the spat, saying ties with the North will not be affected. But while the warning in the North’s article of “grave consequences” would seem nothing but rhetoric, there is no disputing that China, with a long border with the country, would be affected should conflict break out on the peninsula.

Dialogue between the North and the US has in the past dampened potential conflict, as happened with trips to Pyongyang by former presidents Jimmy Carter in 1994 and Bill Clinton in 2009 and secretary of state Madeleine Albright in 2000. The North’s leaders are masters at brinkmanship, though, and the aid that resulted only temporarily lessened the tension. Trump’s team has to tread warily, but there will be only tragedy from military action; talks will always be the best option.