Trump is running out of time to deal with North Korea on his terms

Donald trumpWin McNameePresident Trump

President Donald Trump has made it very clear that when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, one topic will tower above the rest — North Korea’s nuclear posturing.

But Trump, whose administration has gone further ever before in stressing the potential for a military strike on North Korea, may be running out of time to determine North Korea’s fate on his own terms.

As North Korea continues to test nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles they near a “point of no return,” Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical analysis firm, told Business Insider.

Essentially, once North Korea’s Kim regime perfects an intercontinental ballistic missile that can strike the US mainland, the US’s military option disappears, and they may be forced to recognise the brutal dictator as a legitimate world leader.

But perfecting an ICBM could take years, and South Korean politics could freeze Trump out of the conversation long before then.

“If the Trump administration is hellbent on significantly stepping up pressure on China and North Korea, it’s going to have a serious problem,” Joel Wit, a former State Department diplomat and co-founder of 38North, told Business Insider.

That problem’s name is Moon Jae-in, a liberal South Korean human rights lawyer who is favoured to win the country’s May 9 presidential election.

“He is going to pursue a very different approach from president Park,” said Wit, referencing Park Guen-hye, South Korea’s conservative former president, who was recently impeached and arrested after a bizarre influence-peddling scheme came to light.

Wit said that the normally ironclad alliance between the US and South Korea could be rocked by Moon’s reversal on policy toward North Korea. Moon is expected to pursue some kind of engagement policy towards North Korea, which has failed time and time again over the last quarter century.

Pukguksong-2 north korea missileKCNA/Handout via ReutersA view of the test-fire of Pukguksong-2 guided by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the spot, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 13, 2017.

This couldn’t contrast any more with the Trump administration’s stance that the “clock has now run out” on Pyongyang, and “the United States has spoken enough about North Korea.”

Wit said that the clash in objectives for North Korea will create “problems that the Chinese can take advantage of,” further relegating the US to the sidelines without the Kim regime making a single concession.

So if Trump can’t convince Xi he’s on the brink of war with North Korea and muscle some concessions out of him, he’s looking at about a one month window where he can act unilaterally, before possible responses go from bad to worse.

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