Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Playing the Long Game? Maybe There's a Method to Trump's Madness toward North Korea

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Playing the Long Game? Maybe There's a Method to Trump's Madness toward North Korea

Article excerpt

President Donald Trump often sounds more desperate for a deal than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The latest example came on Monday, when Mr. Trump insisted that North Korea had not tested ballistic missiles earlier this month ? contradicting not only his own national security adviser but also the prime minister of Japan.

After some speculation about Mr. Kim's motivation, Mr. Trump doubled down on an earlier tweet. "All I know is that there have been no nuclear tests," he said. "There have been no ballistic missiles going out, no long-range missiles going out."

There are good reasons to worry about this. It's indefensible for Mr. Trump to tweet out Mr. Kim's dim view of former Vice President Joe Biden's intelligence. And it almost goes without saying that Shinzo Abe and John Bolton are in a better position than Mr. Trump to assess North Korea's missile tests.

That said, one unlikely source says there may be a method to Mr. Trump's madness when it comes to Mr. Kim. His name is Thae Yong Ho, and he is one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials ever to defect to the West.

In an interview at the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual conference for dissidents and human-rights advocates in the Norwegian capital, Mr. Thae offered a possible rationale for Mr. Trump's approach. "Trump still keeps the economic sanctions against Kim," he said. "On the other hand, he is flattering him so he does not break out of the negotiations." If North Korea tests nuclear or long-range ballistic missiles, Mr. Thae said, "Trump would have justification to use force. Kim knows this, and this is why he won't do it."

Coming from Mr. Thae, it's a surprising view. When Mr. Thae defected in 2016 with his family, he became a hunted man. The South Korean government provides him with 24-hour protection, even when he travels outside of Seoul. "The world has seen what Kim has done to his half-brother," said Mr. …

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