Josh Rogin reports on the Trump administration’s determination to thwart South Korea’s engagement policy:
Earlier Thursday, at Yokota Air Base in Japan, I asked Pence directly how he planned to deal with Moon’s public desire to build off of the North-South Olympic engagement. Pence said the Trump administration wants the warming of relations with North Korea to end when the Olympic flame is extinguished.
Improved relations between the Koreas is an obviously desirable thing for everyone who wants to avoid armed conflict on the peninsula, so it is telling that the Trump administration wants to smother Seoul’s engagement policy in its crib. There is not just a gap between Washington and Seoul on how to handle North Korea, but rather a yawning chasm. Pence and Moon can paper this over while the vice president is there, but it will be impossible to cover up once the Olympics are over.
It is possible that South Korea’s efforts at engaging North Korea will ultimately be unsuccessful, but it is crazy for the administration to want to sabotage those efforts when they have barely just begun. Even if North-South dialogue doesn’t “solve” the major disputes with Pyongyang, the reduced tensions and improved communications between the two governments will make managing these other problems a bit easier. Washington should be actively encouraging its ally in this outreach instead of pressing them to halt it. That would not only be in the best interests of South Korea and the surrounding region, but it would also make U.S. involvement in a major war less likely.