The US plan to handle North Korea is on the table

Trump cabinet
Trump’s cabinet finally lays out a clear strategy on North Korea. Donald Trump/Twitter

Unlike President Donald Trump’s lopsided focus on “fire and fury” towards North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis have laid out the US’s comprehensive approach to dealing with North Korea.

The op-ed by Tillerson and Mattis in The Wall Street Journal stresses the US’s efforts to get the international community, especially China and the UN Security Council, on board with denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Equally as important to the US’s stated goal, however, are objectives the pair say they won’t pursue.

“The US has no interest in regime change or accelerated reunification of Korea. We do not seek an excuse to garrison US troops north of the Demilitarized Zone. We have no desire to inflict harm on the long-suffering North Korean people, who are distinct from the hostile regime in Pyongyang,” they write.

These promises to respect Pyongyang’s leadership and the state’s function as a buffer state between US-influenced South Korea and Chinese-backed North Korea represent the substance of what China and Kim Jong Un would likely demand from the US in any negotiation.

In the face of mounting tensions between North Korea and the US, Pyongyang has been slipping deescalatory language into statements about its nuclear posture.

Here’s the most recent, highest-level North Korean statement on the prospect of disarming from North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho (emphasis added):

“We will, under no circumstances, put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table. Neither shall we flinch even an inch from the road to bolstering up the nuclear forces chosen by ourselves unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S. against the D.P.R.K. are fundamentally eliminated.”

But Tillerson and Mattis suggest things should work differently, and that North Korea should pause its illegal hostilities before the US pauses its legal military exercises with South Korea.

“Given the long record of North Korea’s dishonesty in negotiations and repeated violations of international agreements,” Tillerson and Mattis write, calling for an “immediate cessation of its provocative threats, nuclear tests, missile launches and other weapons tests.”

To achieve this goal, Tillerson and Mattis call on China to reassess its interests and cut off trade with North Korea. “The region and world need and expect China to do more,” the authors write.

Still, Tillerson and Mattis end by asserting the US military’s preparedness to handle North Korea with force should diplomacy fail.