US, South Korea Appear Deeply Divided Over What To Do About North Korea

Ryan Pickrell | China/Asia Pacific Reporter

The Winter Olympics haven’t even started, and it looks like North Korea may already be winning, as the rogue regime appears to have driven a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea.

When North Korean despot Kim Jong Un first announced his intent to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea and revealed an interest in dialogue with South Korea, Korea watchers were skeptical, quick to point out that the North was likely attempting to sow division between the U.S. and South Korea. (RELATED: It’s A Trap! North Korea’s Sudden Interest In Talks With The South Seems Suspicious)

If that was his plan, and all evidence suggests it is, it would seem he has is succeeding.

Enthusiastic and optimistic about Kim’s unexpected overture last month, South Korea rushed to respond, without consulting the U.S., according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported that the U.S. was notified only a few hours before Seoul offered to meet North Korea for negotiations. Washington was reportedly miffed, as the South Korean government had repeatedly warned the U.S. against acting unilaterally to address the the North Korea problem.

Private frictions have now spilled into public, and the U.S. and South Korea are sending conflicting messages about North Korea, The Washington Post noted Thursday.

“We certainly hope to utilize this opportunity to the maximum,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in explained Thursday, “so that the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games can become a venue that leads to dialogue for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as to establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Speaking earlier in the day in Japan, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a very different speech, stating, “We reaffirm our commitment to continue well beyond the Olympics — when the Olympics are long a distant memory — to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically.”

When Kim Jong Un delivered his New Year’s address, the U.S. and South Korea heard it very differently. The South, eager to engage the North in dialogue, heard the young North Korean leader who had spent the past year threatening its neighbors and their friends with nuclear destruction while ignoring the South’s peaceful overtures suddenly offered to meet for talks. The U.S. heard Kim assert that North Korea has completed its state nuclear force and call for the mass production and the rapid deployment of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

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North Korea is holding military parades to showcase its power and running propaganda praising unification and criticizing the U.S. as an external force preventing inter-Korean peace. The liberal South Korean government is embracing idealized visions of peaceful unification by forcing its Olympic athletes to march under a unified banner with the North and even compete as part of a unified Korean team despite backlash from domestic opposition forces. The U.S. is doing its best to counter North Korea’s propaganda efforts to hijack the narrative and present itself as a normal nuclear state by highlighting the tragic stories of defectors and welcoming Otto Warmbier’s father at the opening ceremony.

When Pence and Moon met Thursday, they reaffirmed their commitment to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy targeting North Korea. “The South Korea-U.S. alliance is stronger than ever,” Moon said after the meeting, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Despite public assurances that the U.S. and South Korea are on the same page, there appears to be a disconnect affecting the bilateral relationship between the two allies.

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