Most South Koreans’ prefer their government’s engagement with North Korea to trying to pressure the DPRK to change:
A poll conducted on February 15 showed that 61.5 percent of South Korean adults nationwide were in favor of Moon travelling to Pyongyang for face-to-face talks with Kim, while 31.2 percent disagreed and expressed the belief that additional pressure – such as international sanctions – is the best way to force North Korea to moderate its behavior.
The U.S. should respect the preference of a large majority of the people living in the allied country that has the most at stake in a conflict with North Korea. For all the administration’s talk of solidarity with allies, they have been remarkably bad at showing it with South Korea. In both their public statements and the substance of the North Korea policy they have been carrying out, the administration has resisted Moon’s efforts at engagement and made his task that much harder.
Washington should be encouraging Moon to pursue engagement as far as it will go, and he should not have to fear that accepting the invitation to go to Pyongyang will damage relations with the U.S. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has not been doing that, and Moon does have to worry that the U.S. won’t back his policy all the way. Moon now has to thread the needle of following up on the contacts made during the Olympics without provoking the wrath of Trump, and that makes an already very difficult diplomatic challenge even trickier than it ought to be. That could cause Moon to end up missing the window of opportunity that his own diplomatic efforts created, and if that happens it would be a real loss for both the U.S. and South Korea.
It says quite a bit about Trump’s foreign policy that his administration is eager to maintain “no daylight” with authoritarian client regimes in the Middle East as they wage senseless and atrocious wars while they are happy to undermine the diplomatic outreach of a major democratic treaty ally. We can see a consistent bias in favor of military action and enabling the excesses of clients and a marked disrespect for the states that the U.S. is actually obliged to defend.