Can renewed talks prevent war on the Korean Peninsula?

Can renewed talks prevent war on the Korean Peninsula?
From Al Jazeera - January 11, 2018

South Korean PresidentMoon Jae-inheld a very polishedpress conferenceon January 10. He confidently laid out his domestic and foreign policy priorities for some 30 minutes. That address was followed by an hour-long exchange with the flock of journalists in attendance.

Yet the ease with which the event unfolded belied the difficulty Moon had in addressing questions about what may be the most important challenge for his administration: North Korea's fast-progressingweapons programme.

Just 10 days earlier, North Korean leaderKim Jong-un's made an important New Year's speech. Hereiteratedhis country's nuclear capabilities: "our Republic has, at last, come to possess a powerful and reliable war deterrent, which no force and nothing can reverse."

It was in that same speech that Kim hinted at the possibility of a return topeaceful engagement, floating possible North Korean participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics, to be held in South Korea next month. Seoul eagerly seized the olive branch and counteredwith an offer of dialoguethe very next day. And on Tuesday, January 9, the two sides finally met for the first time in more than two years and agreed that the North would indeedsend a delegationto attend the games.

Fortunately, it just might be enough to ease tensions and prevent war in the immediate future, Washington's wishes notwithstanding.

North Korea is known never to yield to force; historically, only sustained diplomacy has brought the regime to the table for dialogue.

Defying sanctions after sanctions, North Korea has made major progress toward becoming a nuclear power.In summer 2017, tensions flared up as Pyongyang and Washington traded barbed words. North Koreathreatened toattackthe US territory of Guam, and US President Trump promised "fire and fury" should Pyongyang issue any more threats against his country. Washington increased pressure on the North with military exercises and condemnations at the United Nations, and there werereportsof some South Koreans preparing for war by buying up emergency supplies and gas masks. Pyongyangeventested in Novemberwhat most experts believe is anintercontinental ballistic missile(ICBM) capable of reaching continental US - a prospect many had feared.

Things have calmed down considerably since then, butthe North still expresses no interest in giving up its nuclear weapons, and talks of a preemptive attack by the US are growing.Even thelatest strict sanctionsimposed by the UNSecurity Councilon December 22- banning the export of nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum products to the North - does not seem to be changing anything, as reports emerged that the Chinese weresupplying North Korea with oilvia ship-to-ship transfers.

Trump, in his usual self-aggrandising fashion, claimed credit for the current inter-Korean dialogue,tweetingon January 4, "does anyone really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I was not firm, strong and willing to commit our total amight' against the North." But the fact is that Washington knows its hardline policy of sanctions and threats has failed. And that is why it is surreptitiously contemplating a so-called "bloody nose" strategy of targeted attacks against North Korea - if areportin the Wall Street Journal is accurate - at the risk of causing a full-blown war on the peninsula.

At a conference on international security last month in the US, I was privately told by a number of US experts with links to Washington that the Trump administration is determined to attack North Korea. The question was of when, not if. Those views have been echoed in US media, which have taken to predicting the likelihood of war in terms of percentage.


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