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Full US Review of Policy Toward North Korea Expected

The Trump White House has ordered a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, looking at all the options Washington has for its future dealings with Pyongyang and the Kim Jong Un regime, well-informed diplomatic sources told VOA this week.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed the threat posed by North Korea as recently as Tuesday in his conversation with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Tillerson did not answer a question posed by VOA on the status of the policy review on Wednesday during his meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

A nuclear-armed North Korea presents President Donald Trump’s administration with one of its most urgent and potentially explosive problems, many experts argue.

“As the new president has heard directly from [former] President [Barack] Obama and in intelligence briefings, North Korea has nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems that already threaten South Korea and Japan, as well as U.S. bases in those countries and in the western Pacific,” said Evans Revere, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies in Washington.

Some contend it is time for Washington to take a different approach in its dealings with Pyongyang, such as directly engaging with the reclusive and unpredictable regime. Others are calling for a harder line against Pyongyang’s militaristic gestures, such as its ballistic-missile launch this month, timed to coincide with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s talks in the U.S. with Trump.


“The Trump administration needs to engage the North Koreans to determine how the two sides can avoid a possible confrontation that is in no one’s interest,” Asia-Pacific expert Donald Zagoria told VOA Wednesday.

Call for broader contacts

Zagoria, of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, is prominent among those who feel that broader contacts with North Korea are the best way to resolve differences.

He is senior vice president and director of a forum on Asia-Pacific security at NCAFP, which is based in New York. Founded more than 40 years ago, the nonprofit policy organization aims to resolve conflicts that threaten U.S. interests.

“The new administration needs to appoint a special representative who has the authority to deal with this issue and to coordinate policy across the bureaucracy,” Zagoria said.

The NCAFP is trying to organize talks between North Korean representatives and former American officials in the hope that such talks, the so-called “Track 1.5” diplomacy, can contribute to the resolution of problems that governments are unwilling or unable to address officially.

No details of preparation

Zagoria, who was a consultant to the National Security Council and the State Department under former President Jimmy Carter, declined to comment on details of the preparations for such talks.

One potential stumbling block, however, already looms. The State Department has not yet approved visas for North Korean officials to travel to New York for such talks.

A spokesperson for the State Department’s East Asia and Pacific Bureau, Anna Richey-Allen, told VOA, “An individual’s eligibility for specific categories of visas is based on a number of factors, including the activities that he or she intends to undertake in the United States.”

In contrast to the views of Zagoria and others who hope for greater engagement with North Korea under Trump, other experts argue that Washington “must apply immediate and unprecedented pressure” on the North Korean regime to compel Pyongyang to change its provocative behavior.

The United States should enhance “extended deterrence and measures to physically demonstrate U.S. determination to fulfill its commitments,” Revere said at a recent discussion organized by NCAFP.

Increased military exercises

Revere added that the United States could “increase scope and frequency of military exercises to include participation by other members of the United Nations Command,” including Britain and Australia.

If the planned Track 1.5 talks do take place, they would be the first such meetings in years.

“The substance will determine the significance,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It would provide an opportunity to hear if North Korea has anything new to say,” Glaser said, adding, “other than its familiar demands that Washington must recognize Pyongyang as a nuclear weapons state.”

Another factor could figure in U.S. diplomacy and the Trump administration’s expected review of policy toward North Korea in the coming weeks, said former presidential adviser Dennis Wilder, who worked for former President George W. Bush and currently is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s U.S.-China Initiative.

“The policy review may not be completed quickly,” Wilder said, “given the abrupt change of leadership at the National Security Council [after Michael Flynn’s departure] and the absence of new, middle-level political appointees for East Asia and Pacific affairs at the departments of State and Defense.”