CLOSINGS: View Closings

Readying for Trump, North Korea's Kim engages in steroid diplomacy

A summons from Beijing brought North Korean leader Kim Jong Un out of isolation into his first foreign foray since ta...

Posted: Apr 10, 2018 12:39 PM
Updated: Apr 10, 2018 12:39 PM

A summons from Beijing brought North Korean leader Kim Jong Un out of isolation into his first foreign foray since taking power. This week, his foreign minister is visiting Moscow to meet with Russia's top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov.

From years of isolation to sudden and rapid all-out engagement, the North Korean leadership continues to travel the world. Its envoys shuttle between world capitals, meeting with diplomats and attempting to shore up alliances for the Hermit Kingdom in the lead up to an historic summit with US President Donald Trump.

Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho's talks Tuesday with Lavrov will focus on "resolving the situation on the Korean peninsula," according to Russia's Foreign Minister spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, quoted by state news agency TASS.

"There are plans to discuss the current state of and the prospects for bilateral relations, as well as to exchange views on pressing regional and global issues, while the focus will be on ways to resolve the situation on the Korean peninsula," Zakharova said.

Bruce Bechtol, a professor of political science at Angelo State University who has authored several books on North Korea, said Kim had sent his envoy to Russia because Moscow is the only government "that has a semblance of being an ally besides China."

"This is about getting Russia on board with them to take their side as the North Koreans walk into talks, not just with us, but with the South Koreans as well," Bechtol told CNN.

From self-reliance to sanctions

Since its founding, North Korea has promoted the ideology of "juche," or "self-reliance." It was the creed hammered into the national psyche after the armistice of 1953 sent the Hermit Kingdom into self-imposed exile from the world. It has been drummed into the minds of North Koreans that they are outsiders, underdogs, and the ultimate survivors.

North Korea spent much of 2017 exhorting the advances in its nuclear program, seeming defiant as the international community sought to condemn and contain its threats of firing missiles as far as the American mainland.

But the first signs that such self-reliance may not be enough for the country to endure punishing sanctions came at the beginning of this year. In January, Kim Jong Un offered to hold talks with South Korea, first over his country's participation in the Winter Olympics, and later to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Retired US ambassador William Courtney said the added unpredictability of the US president has also thrown the North Koreans.

"Trump has been quite open that he wants to put maximum pressure on North Korea. The US and South Korea are carrying out their annual exercises, and now we have the addition of the promotions of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo," Courtney said.

Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in March and has nominated CIA chief Pompeo to replace him. He announced Bolton's installation as his new national security advisor on Twitter.

"Those are two people who are known to be hardliners on North Korea, so my guess is North Korea's more open posture is a direct result of the pressure from the Trump administration and Trump personally," Courtney said.

"The North Koreans are probably concerned that the United States is preparing scenarios of military force."

Russia's North Korean dilemma

The date for the Trump-Kim summit has not yet been announced, but there has been an open channel for North Korea and the US to communicate via regarding the summit and the logistics involved.

Trump already has to take into account China's influence and position on North Korea, the question is now whether he will have to consider Moscow's view as well.

"Russia has far less influence or leverage with North Korea than China does, and that's not because of the military stuff, it's purely because of money," said Bechtol, the academic.

"During the Cold War, Russia subsidized everything in North Korea. North Korea was not a poor country, it was simply a subsidized member of what we can now call the Soviet Union's satellite states."

That all ended in 1991, said Bechtol, when the Berlin Wall came down, communism in the Soviet Union and its member states collapsed, and Russia opened its economic doors to the West.

North Korea's economy took a dive after that, and the withdrawal of food subsidies in the early 1990s from both China and the Soviet Union, the failure of the regime's collective farming policies, and flooding followed by a disastrous drought, all led to food shortages and a subsequent famine that killed two to three million North Koreans.

But recently, Russia has been making inroads to counter China's perceived clout with North Korea.

Russia forgave Pyongyang's Soviet-era debt, writing off $10 billion, and Russia, alongside China, is now one of the largest food donors to North Korea. Among the many sanctions Russia is facing are US Treasury penalties for selling oil to the North Korean regime.

For Russia, North Korea is a complex problem, said Ambassador Courtney.

"The North Korean regime likely wants to show that not only does it have support but make a show of building support from these high-level visits," he told CNN.

"For Russia, it's already overtaxed with Ukraine and Syria and the Skripal poisoning, so it doesn't really need another foreign policy crisis right now. And Russia would like the focus on China rather than on itself."

He was referring to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, in the UK. London and its allies have blamed the Kremlin for the attack and deported dozens of Russian diplomats in retaliation.

At the same time, some observers argue the North Korean foreign minister's visit to Moscow may also be laying the groundwork for a meeting between Putin and Kim.

Engagement policy on steroids

Kim Jong Un is following the playbook of his father Kim Jong Il, by alternating "provocations with charm offensives in order to gain economic benefits and undermine international resolve on enforcing sanctions," said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

"Since January, Kim has put his engagement policy on steroids," he added.

Klingner said while Kim's behavior may reflect his father's, the unpredictability of Trump "makes it impossible to predict the outcome of the US-North Korean summit," adding that he expects Kim to try to "restore the lengthy, phased negotiating process of yore to buy time, gain benefits, and diffuse sanctions."

Other than signaling his approval of Kim's apparent interest in denuclearization, it's unclear what Trump's approach will be.

"I think the people advising President Trump ... have been telling him that when you walk into the talks with the North Koreans, do not give up any concessions until they first make their concessions and their number one concession is denuclearization on our terms," said Bechtol.

"That is to say, denuclearize your program and do it transparently, you do it under inspection and you do it completely, and unless or until that happens, the United States does not ease sanctions, we do not ease our state of readiness on the peninsula along with our troops and our Korean allies."

Bechtol added so far, the US policy of maximum pressure and economic sanctions has succeeded by bringing North Korea to the table, and that as long as that remains in place, and is strictly enforced, North Korea will have no choice but to yield, regardless of who else might be at that table too.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1560117

Reported Deaths: 20796
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2118112563
Lake1021301523
Allen964791027
Hamilton75541551
St. Joseph66476761
Elkhart51045634
Vanderburgh50511531
Tippecanoe45721338
Johnson39600527
Hendricks37933463
Porter35132476
Madison30330547
Clark27296331
Vigo26401347
Monroe24100249
LaPorte23921313
Howard23237381
Delaware22453370
Hancock19314220
Bartholomew18980216
Kosciusko18400204
Warrick17733216
Wayne16982303
Floyd16686257
Grant15966300
Morgan15091232
Boone13924138
Dearborn12235113
Shelby12225152
Noble12170142
Henry12027202
Dubois11696152
Marshall11625171
Jackson11111104
Cass10578143
Lawrence10529221
Huntington10523140
DeKalb10482132
Gibson10114127
Montgomery9671144
Harrison9471117
Knox9415125
Whitley902571
Steuben8934105
Putnam8542100
Miami8533135
Clinton849397
Jasper8462116
Jefferson8319127
Wabash8027140
Ripley7504117
Scott685787
Adams6829103
Daviess6825130
White638184
Greene6317112
Clay628975
Decatur6261121
Jennings619781
Wells6090121
Fayette6054122
Posey580148
LaGrange549097
Randolph5364129
Washington528071
Owen5211100
Fountain493681
Spencer467456
Sullivan462066
Fulton450993
Orange449784
Starke448887
Rush433941
Jay432564
Perry409155
Carroll394749
Franklin394650
Vermillion370762
Pike334246
Parke331239
Tipton330475
Blackford282255
Pulaski281775
Brown239856
Newton239761
Benton228921
Crawford224932
Switzerland207914
Martin196722
Warren183922
Union178119
Ohio129216
Unassigned0763

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2515949

Reported Deaths: 31987
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2719422100
Cuyahoga2606673087
Hamilton1758091756
Montgomery1177451651
Summit1089011418
Lucas935321193
Butler83907963
Stark771001431
Lorain64214809
Warren53428489
Mahoning51224930
Lake47591611
Clermont46928452
Delaware41107220
Trumbull39746790
Licking38790416
Medina38646427
Fairfield35828349
Greene34313435
Portage32429366
Clark32361453
Richland29653444
Wood29379301
Allen25875403
Miami24243408
Muskingum23564255
Columbiana23046409
Wayne22093365
Tuscarawas19637428
Marion18616235
Erie18608224
Ashtabula18569362
Scioto18159214
Ross17594260
Pickaway16419181
Hancock16115232
Geauga15511229
Lawrence15094186
Belmont14236248
Union1419584
Huron13908184
Jefferson13656261
Sandusky13268200
Athens12877107
Knox12160201
Seneca12055204
Darke11440202
Ashland11248184
Washington11152172
Auglaize10873147
Crawford10432178
Shelby10402160
Brown10094145
Highland9746151
Fulton9726154
Guernsey9683122
Defiance9567137
Logan9470147
Clinton9428132
Mercer9099112
Madison9032111
Preble8524170
Williams8305138
Putnam8069136
Champaign8040113
Ottawa7971123
Jackson7848121
Perry7514102
Coshocton7411136
Morrow729184
Fayette715992
Pike666689
Hardin6564133
Gallia638891
Adams6227127
Van Wert6065121
Henry602596
Hocking5918105
Wyandot503594
Carroll5009101
Holmes4880167
Paulding426465
Meigs400974
Monroe316468
Harrison299162
Noble296952
Morgan292748
Vinton258646
Unassigned08
Fort Wayne
Mostly Cloudy
10° wxIcon
Hi: 19° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: -3°
Angola
Cloudy
16° wxIcon
Hi: 19° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: 16°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
wxIcon
Hi: 18° Lo: 8°
Feels Like: -3°
Decatur
Cloudy
10° wxIcon
Hi: 19° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: -3°
Van Wert
Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 20° Lo: 17°
Feels Like: 8°
The coldest air of the season filters into the region Tuesday night into Wednesday.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events