President Donald Trump has North Korea grasping at straws to try to figure out what exactly he plans to do.
Trump confuses the North Koreans to no end because his responses are different from past presidents, who have backed away from the possibility of military conflict with the North and allowed the Kim regime to advance its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development programs.
In the past two weeks, Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” and devastate North Korea if the rogue regime forces America’s hand, and last month, the president warned that North Korean threats will be met with unprecedented “fire and fury.” At the same time, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have been calling for a peaceful, diplomatic solution, signaling that the military option is a last resort.
North Korean officials have been reaching out to conservative think tank experts in an effort to get a read on the president and his administration. North Korea’s top “concern is Trump,” an individual with direct knowledge of the situation told The Washington Post. “They can’t figure him out.”
The North has contacted Bruce Klingner, the former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Korea branch and now a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, and Douglas Paal, an Asia expert who served on the national security councils under former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and the current vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“They’re on a new binge of reaching out to American scholars and ex-officials,” Klingner told WaPo. Both experts rejected North Korea’s invitation to visit the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
The North Koreans are reaching out through various channels and through various counterparts,” said Evans Revere, a former State Department official familiar with the regime who has taken part in Track 1.5 meetings with North Korean officials.
“My own guess is that they are somewhat puzzled as to the direction in which the U.S. is going, so they’re trying to open up channels to take the pulse in Washington,” he explained. “They haven’t seen the U.S. act like this before.”
Recent attempts to breach the mind of the unconventional President Donald Trump are not the first sign that North Korea is confused by America’s commander-in-chief.
“He might be irrational — or too smart. We don’t know,” Pak Song Il, the North Korean man tasked with understanding Trump, told New Yorker writer Evan Osnos on a recent trip to Pyongyang.
“When he speaks, I have to figure out what he means, and what his next move will be,” he said. “This is very difficult.”
The Trump administration has launched an intense pressure campaign against North Korea, using diplomatic and economic pressure to punish the North for its missile and nuclear tests. The president has, however, maintained that all options, including the application of military force, are on the table. The U.S. is working to avoid war, but the military is ready if necessary.
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