As the Trump administration weighs its options on North Korea, several former diplomatic and defense officials, as well as leading experts, are urging the president to talk to Kim Jong Un.
North Korea is advancing its weapons program at an accelerated rate, moving the country closer to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of threatening the continental U.S. While all options remain on the table, the Trump administration is attempting to apply diplomatic and economic pressure to force Pyongyang to negotiate and ultimately acquiesce to demands for denuclearization.
“We are adding pressure and have really only begun to do so,” a senior White House official told reporters Wednesday, “The president is determined to follow through with that and to see how it works
Some expert observers, however, feel that this strategy may not produce the desired results, arguing that the administration should pursue talks sooner rather than later to de-escalate the current situation.
“We strongly urge your administration to begin discussions with North Korea,” six experts with decades of military, political, and technical involvement with North Korean issues explained in a letter to President Donald Trump, asserting that this is the only option to prevent a “nuclear catastrophe.”
“Tightening sanctions can be useful in increasing pressure on North Korea, but sanctions alone will not solve the problem,” the experts argued, “Pyongyang has shown it can make progress on missile and nuclear technology despite its isolation. Without a diplomatic effort to stop its progress, there is little doubt that it will develop a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the United States.”
The letter was signed by William Perry, the secretary of defense during the Clinton administration; George Shultz, the secretary of state during the Reagan administration, Robert Gallucci, who served as the chief negotiator during the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis, Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist and the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Richard Lugar, a former Republican senator and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Bill Richardson, the secretary of energy and ambassador to the United Nations under Clinton.
“Talking is not a reward or a concession to Pyongyang and should not be construed as signaling an acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea,” the signatories said, adding, “It is a necessary step to establishing communication to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.”
The experts suggest sending a high-level presidential envoy to explain to North Korea that the U.S. does not have hostile intentions and is willing to work with it to achieve peaceful relations in exchange for a freeze on ballistic missile and nuclear weapons testing. The goal would be to open the door to future negotiations and cap North Korea’s arsenal.
Trump said in May that he would be “honored” to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un under the right conditions, which the administration has said are not suitable at this time. North Korea has launched over a dozen missiles this year and tested multiple new and improved systems, including short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles, as well as surface-to-air and coastal defense cruise missiles. The North has also warned that it may soon test an ICBM with the ability to range the U.S.
Hecker recently told Yonhap News Agency that North Korea is also moving forward on the development of a hydrogen bomb, although they have yet to master the technology.
The experts that wrote to Trump acknowledge that diplomacy may not work, but there are no good military options. “A North Korean response to a U.S. attack could devastate South Korea and Japan.” They assert that there is a window of opportunity now, and it may be “the last chance” before North Korea obtains a nuclear-armed ICBM.
“Time is not on our side,” the letter concludes.
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