This post operates on sanity-preserving ground rules:
- No referring to: think-pieces, think-tank analyses, journalistic hot takes, outraged or absurd Tweets (other than those thumbed out by POTUS), Chuck Schumer’s courageous stand against a commemorative coin, or speculation about what this consistently incoherent White House intends to do.
- Do not engage with the orgy of clickbait flowing out of the inexplicable leak from the Pompeo/Andrew Kim meeting with Kim Jong-un that the North Korean leader was concerned primarily with his safety and domestic stability in the event he leaves the country, or, as the source put it to the Washington Post, that “a trip so far from home could expose him to a military coup or other internal attempts to unseat him.”
- Focus on the North Korean narrative and perception, to the extent possible.
- Keep watching the low-level relations between China and North Korea in the aftermath of the Xi-Kim meetings, but don’t speculate about what it means or doesn’t mean for sanctions enforcement, and by no means blame China for enabling North Korea to push back against the United States.
To the low-hanging data, then:
On 21 May 2018, on the eve of the South Korean President’s arrival in Washington, US Vice President Mike Pence engaged in a relatively long interview with Fox News. The first third of the conversation focused on Justice Department issues surrounding the 2016 election, then they turned to North Korea:
“I don’t think President Trump is thinking about public relations — he is thinking about peace…The Clinton administration got played in the past…it would be a great mistake for Kim Jong-un to think he could play Donald Trump…there is no question [that Donald Trump is willing to walk away]…we hope that Kim Jong-un will dismantle his nuclear weapons program…”
Pence then meandered unprompted into the Libya parallels, which ended up turning in to a threat. No mention was made of the destruction of the nuclear tunnels about to take place, the promise and peril of North Korea’s ‘new strategic line’, Mike Pompeo’s two meetings with Kim Jong-un, the Panmunnjom Declaration, any clarification about the summit beyond Trump’s bizarre ‘who knows?’ or virtually anything else that might have indicated that Pence has actually been briefed on these topics and is less informationally incontinent than his boss, that this administration has a hymn sheet other than Trump’s Twitter account, or that it has a strategy other than blaming the non-Fox media and the Clintons for everything.
The next day, taking press questions in the Oval Office with Moon Jae-in, Donald Trump smeared a fog of ambiguity all over the planned 12 June summit in Singapore, while generally making it clear he is a deeply confused individual:
North Korea also came up at an appearance by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, apparently at which he tried to indicate that things are still on track for the summit (full testimony here; although it bends my ground rules slightly, see also the Politico analysis of Pompeo’s divergence from Trump on North Korea here). Although it already feels like a long time ago, it is worth remembering that he was in Pyongyang meeting with Kim Jong-un personally just two weeks ago.
Today, North Korea’s Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui made a significant intervention into US-DPRK relations very much along the lines of Kim Kye-gwan’s recent brushback of Bolton’s Libya talk. I compiled a bilingual/trilingual version of her remarks to try to work out some of the meanings in the text:
The Rodong Sinmun also went after Pence for some recent anti-Venezuela remarks he made at an Organization for American States meeting — this was likely meant more for domestic consumption as the Venezuelan elections appear to have gotten some coverage in the North Korean press, and Pence is an enemy of the Non-Aligned Movement.
In terms of Choi’s statement, a few things are notable:
- No direct criticism of the dotard US President, including his weird comments at the press conference with Moon Jae-in
- The overall environment still trending toward ‘dialogue and the climate of détente’
- The U.S., not North Korea, could wind up like Libya if it isn’t careful
- The interview kicker is slightly more informative in the Chinese version:
‘In case the U.S. offends against our goodwill [‘has the audacity to blaspheme Chosun’s goodwill’/胆敢继续亵渎朝鲜的善意] and clings to unlawful and outrageous acts [‘blindly making a scene’/盲目胡闹], I will put forward a suggestion to our supreme leadership for reconsidering the DPRK-U.S. summit.
Image credit: Rodong Sinmun, 10 May 2018.