Seoul, South Korea, May 16, 2018
I am finishing up a week-long factfinding trip to South Korea sponsored by the Washington Times. I’m grateful to the Times for this opportunity to be on a delegation with distinguished experts like former CIA Director James Woolsey, Washington Post national security columnist Bill Gertz and Ambassador Joseph DeTrani. We met with officials with South Korean intelligence, the National Assembly, and the Blue House (South Korea’s White House). We also met with officials with U.S. Forces Korea. A conference was held after our government meetings.
I learned a lot during this trip about North Korea and the foreign policy views of South, Korea, Japan and Russia. Some major findings so far:
- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was stunned when President Trump walked away from the Vietnam Summit in February. We heard this in many briefings. Most of the delegation knew Kim had been surprised at this outcome; we hadn’t heard how much this angered Kim and threw his foreign policy off the rails. Some briefers believed Kim’s recent missile tests and cutoff of diplomatic meetings with South Korea and the U.S. after the summit is a backlash to the outcome of the summit. My hope is that this backlash will soon subside and allow these meetings to resume.
- South Korea is way too eager to make a deal with the North. I was aware of this, but it was interesting to hear South Korean officials voice this over and over again. Many expressed frustration with President Trump’s North Korea policy, asserting that it would be better if Mr. Trump weakened his tough stand on complete denuclearization of North Korea.
- Many South Korean officials failed to credit President Trump’s role in creating an opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the North Korean threat. We sat through several briefings by South Korean officials who failed to give President Trump and his “Maximum Pressure” strategy credit in lowering tensions with North Korea and creating an historic opportunity for peace. They were, however, quick to criticize President Trump, especially concerning the Vietnam summit. Several members of our delegation took issue with this.
- Concerns that Kim Jong Un might try to wait out the Trump administration in hope that he will lose reelection in 2020.
- Kim Jong Un recently has tried to build ties to Russian President Putin because of his frustration over the failure of the Vietnam summit and the Kim regime’s dislike of China.
- South Korean officials claimed they termed North Korea’s recent missile tests as “projectile tests” because it has not been established what kind of projectile the North tests. This explanation is absurd and is actually an attempt to avoid accusing North Korea of violating UN Security Council sanctions by calling these tests “missile tests.”
This was a good opportunity to hear the views of Asia-Pacific officials, many of which conflict with the Trump administration. There also were other bad and confusing ideas and proposals. But despite this and criticism of President Trump, there was widespread support and respect for President Trump’s leadership and recognition that strong American leadership is crucial to dealing with the threat from North Korea.