Thursday 21 September 2017

US in secret peace talks with N Korea even as Trump says military 'locked and loaded'

Above: President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice-President Mike Pence, gives a security briefing at his golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey. Picture: Reuters
Above: President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice-President Mike Pence, gives a security briefing at his golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey. Picture: Reuters

Jonathan Lemire

The US has been conducting secret peace talks with North Korea for months even as the two nations continue to ramp up their threats in public.

Washington diplomats have been addressing the issue of Americans detained in the country and escalating tensions on the peninsula with their counterparts, according to AP.

Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea, and Pak Song-Il, a top North Korean diplomat at the UN, are understood to be heading the talks.

The talks will not have been helped by US President Donald Trump's latest threat yesterday, tweeting that the US military was "locked and loaded" if North Korea acted "unwisely".

Asked later about the tweet, he went further in his warning to Kim Jong-un: "If he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat - which by the way he has been uttering for years and his family has been uttering for years - or he does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that's an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast."

American and South Korean officials said they would move forward with large-scale military exercises later this month that North Korea claims are a rehearsal for war. Pyongyang has laid out plans to strike near the US territory of Guam.

A man wearing a Trump mask takes part in a protest by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at the US Embassy in London to commemorate the anniversary of the Nagasaki nuclear bombing on August 9, 1945. Picture: PA
A man wearing a Trump mask takes part in a protest by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at the US Embassy in London to commemorate the anniversary of the Nagasaki nuclear bombing on August 9, 1945. Picture: PA

Mr Trump's provocative public declarations, a break from the careful language of his predecessors, have only grown louder as the week has gone on. They included the president explaining that his initial warning of delivering "fire and fury" to North Korea - which appeared to evoke a nuclear explosion - was too timid. The days of war rhetoric have alarmed international leaders.

"I don't see a military solution and I don't think it's called for," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She declined to say whether Germany would stand with the US in case of a military conflict with North Korea and called on the UN Security Council to continue to address the issue.

"I think escalating the rhetoric is the wrong answer," Mrs Merkel added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov fears the risk of a military conflict between the US and North Korea is "very high", and said Moscow was deeply concerned.

"When you get close to the point of a fight, the one who is stronger and wiser should be the first to step back from the brink," Mr Lavrov said.

Mr Trump's bluster, however, stands in stark contrast to an ongoing back channel for negotiations between the two enemies, which came to light yesterday. It had been known the two sides had discussions to secure the June release of an American university student.

But it wasn't known until now that the contacts have continued, or that they have broached matters other than US detainees. People familiar with the contacts say the interactions have done nothing thus far to quell tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile advances, which are now fuelling fears of military confrontation.

But they say the behind-the-scenes discussions could still be a foundation for more serious negotiation.

Despite tensions and talk of war, life on the streets of the North Korean capital remains calm. There are no air raid drills or cars in camouflage netting as was the case during previous crises.

At a park in central Pyongyang yesterday evening, young people practised volleyball and grandparents and parents watched children on climbing frames and swings.

Two days after North Korea laid out its plans to strike near Guam with unsettling specificity, there was no observable march toward combat. US officials said there was no major movement of US military assets to the region, nor were there signs Pyongyang was actively preparing for war.

Irish Independent

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