After cancelling his June 12th summit with Kim Jong-un, President Trump now says talks are still possible. We speak to journalist Tim Shorrock about North Korea’s overlooked and misunderstood concerns and how Mike Pence and John Bolton stand in the way of peace
AARON MATE: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Mate, continuing with Tim Shorrock, correspondent for the Nation, whose blog Dispatch Korea is at TimShorrock.com. And we’re talking about President Trump’s cancellation of his June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Now Trump says the two sides are talking again and the meeting could be back on. .
So, Tim, I want to play for you a clip of Sen. Lindsey Graham. He was speaking today on the Today Show, and he said that the cancellation of the summit, which of course he blamed on North Korea, makes war far more likely.
SPEAKER: Senator, the foreign minister of North Korea last week said, we’re not giving up our nuclear program. Denuclearization is off the table, is what he said, which is the entire objective, I imagine, from where you’re sitting, from where the president is sitting. So if that’s true and they won’t agree to give up their nukes, where does that leave you? What’s the objective?
LINDSEY GRAHAM: Military objective. There’s-.
SPEAKER: Isn’t that where we are now?
LINDSEY GRAHAM: That’s where we’re headed. If that statement holds true, and I don’t believe it, I believe they believe that Trump will use military force. For 30 years they have played us. They understand our election cycle. They’re trying to run out the clock. They understand 2019 is the year before a presidential election. They think Trump just like everybody else. He’s not.
AARON MATE: That’s Sen. Lindsey Graham speaking on the Today Show on Friday. So, Tim, Graham is saying there also that, that because-. He says North Korea has been playing the U.S. for 30 years, and if they are insisting that they will not fully denuclearize, in his characterization, that that’s actually what makes war more likely. Respond to what he said there.
TIM SHORROCK: First of all, the question itself to Graham was wrong. They did not say they would not negotiate about their nuclear weapons. They said they would not surrender, surrender their nuclear weapons without some kind of negotiation and discussion about broader issues, and dealing with the American hostile policy, which is what they’re concerned about. So the question in itself was, was wrong. But you know, Sen. Lindsey Graham is like, the biggest warmonger out there. He just loves the idea of a war with Korea, and that’s what he really wants, I think. And he’s always talking about this.
I mean, what what was really interesting was, you know, that he is-. About, what’s interesting about Sen. Graham, I mean, he’s really detested in South Korea because of the things he’s said. This man has just no credibility at all. And, and you know, I’ve talked to people in South Korea who tell me that, you know, his name is now mud there, because they see him as a very, very dangerous man. Which I agree that he is. So I don’t really, you know, think that anything he says has much to do with reality at all. He would just love to see a war.
AARON MATE: Tim, what you pointed out there is really important, because it speaks to the, the power of western propaganda, and how misconceptions and the dominant Western narratives about North Korea can then shape how journalists cover it. I didn’t know what you pointed out, which is that the characterization of what the North Korean minister said about the denuclearization was wrong, because the reality that you pointed out totally undermines the premise of the question. It speaks to how powerful the dominant sort of hawkish narratives are. You mentioned, though, the people of South Korea. Let me ask you, what do you think the reaction is there right now? Certainly hopes have been really high for the summit taking place. And talk about the mobilization around peace, promoting reconciliation with the North that’s been happening in South Korea.
TIM SHORROCK: Well, you know, ever since this process began, and as it deepened, the support for Moon Jae-in and the support for the peace process within South Korea has been very high, very strong. And you know, Moon’s popularity is around 85 percent now, which is kind of unbelievable for any leader on the world stage. And you know, the percentage of people who actually want to, want to engage with North Korea and trust North Korea has gone way up, too. So there was a recent poll of, about something like 65 percent said they believed and had faith in what Kim Jong-un had said when he visited the South in this summit on April 27. He visited the South that April 27. And so you know, there’s this really, the hopes are very high that this time it can work out. And I think that they want to proceed no matter what the United States does, you know, people in Korea, because they’ve been having this fear of war and conflict for long enough. And they want to move forward on ending the war.
So you know, and as you know, Women Cross DMZ and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which have been organizing, working with women, peacemakers around the world, they are there, and they are there in Korea right now, in Seoul right now. They actually wanted to go to North Korea, but the U.S. would not give travel vouchers, travel visas to any Americans going there. But they are there. They’ve been, they’ve been meeting with, they had a good meeting with the U.S. embassy, and they had a demonstration at the U.S. embassy last night. And many Korean groups were also there demonstrating.
And so I think, I think there’s this very strong feeling in South Korea now, that they’ve reached a point where, you know, they’re almost there. They are on the verge of a very strong agreement, and something that could be a breakthrough, and really, really ease the tensions or get back to a place when the two sides are engaging again in all kinds of ways. And then suddenly Trump in this tantrum he throws closes the door. People are really disappointed to hear, really angry to hear that the summit had been canceled, except for this very small minority of about, you know, 20 percent, 18-20 percent that, you know, wants Trump to bomb North Korea and wants a war. People that think like Lindsey Graham. And that’s a very small minority. And so you know, you have these, like, you know, they’re the people that that love the idea, the talk of war.
But you know, I think the people in South Korea-. You know, let’s remember that Moon Jae-in came to power on the on the wave of this, you know, candlelight revolution against, you know, a leader, a president they saw as dictatorial and corrupt, and was also very militaristic in her approach to North Korea. And the candlelight revolution, you know, led to her impeachment. And that’s how Moon Jae-in won. So he’s got the people, I mean, the people are really strongly behind this. And I think it’s kind of ironic to see even, you know, so many American critics, both from the conservative side, neocons and liberals, who are against talking with Kim Jong-un and against this kind of, you know, direct engagement. There’s, you know, they’re siding with this very small right-wing, very extreme right-wing minority in South Korea.
You know, Tim, speaking of the neocon liberal consensus when it comes to North Korea and the U.S., let me put to you two narratives that I’ve seen to explain the cancellation of the summit, not blaming Trump and the gang around him, but saying two things. One is that Kim Jong-un played Donald Trump, that this was his plan all along. And two, this was curious to me, there was a big piece on NBCNews.com by Andrea Mitchell, called “The North Korea summit crumbled after China lined up against it.” And it quotes Western officials, or Western experts, quote-unquote, and Western officials current and former, basically saying that China fears a unified Korea, doesn’t want to see a capitalist democracy so close to it. And it played a major role in canceling the summit also because it felt like it was on the sidelines.
TIM SHORROCK: Well, I don’t think China had anything to do with the cancellation at all. I mean, these issues that I spoke about before involving the Libya option, Bolton and Pence, and then military exercises were there before Kim Jong-un went to China the second time. And you know, that, in effect on some issues, like on the, on the issue of troop withdrawal, U.S. troop withdrawal from South Korea, for example, the Chinese have a stronger position on this than the North Koreans do. The North Koreans have told the U.S. not only in this round of negotiations, but also in past negotiations, that they might be able to live with a presence of American forces in South Korea after a peace agreement. And you know, when you talk privately with Koreans who are knowledgeable about that, they say that, you know, in some ways the North Koreans see the potential for U.S. forces to be a kind of check on China’s power in Asia itself.
I mean, you’ve got, you have to understand that North Korea’s relations with China are not great. And North Korea has always resisted attempts by China to run its affairs or intervene in its affairs, and sort of control the whole way it deals with the United States. And North Korea has resisted that. So you know, it was natural that the Chinese would invite Kim there. He went there twice. And his first trip, that was the first time he’d ever met the Chinese leadership. So you know, he’s had very poor relations with them for years, since he really came to power, and in fact kind of eliminated a faction within the Worker’s Party in North Korea that was closely allied with China and that were making all the money from the trade with China. So you know. I mean, it’s-. Like I said, it’s, you know, it’s, of course they’re going to meet with him, and they want to be on the same page when it comes to negotiation on peace. And China can play an important role in helping guarantee the peace. And they would have to sign any kind of peace agreement, because they were one of the signatories of the armistice in 1953, along with the United States and North Korea. So they have that role to play.
But to say that they’re the, they’re the ones that influenced this cancellation I think is ridiculous. And you know, NBC is just following that, that line, because so many of the national security people here in Washington, the whole focus, of course, is on China. The rise of China, fears of China’s military power, and so on. But that, that’s not, that’s nothing that, they don’t carefully analyze, they don’t really know anything about China’s actual relationship with North Korea, which has been very rocky at times.
AARON MATE: Right. And if China is a major reason why the U.S. has, you know, over 27000 U.S. troops there with with an eye on China, then that would make it understandable then why hawkish militarists in Washington would be upset at the prospect of possibly those forces being withdrawn under a potential U.S. or North Korea deal. Finally, Tim, let me ask you, let me ask you, so you have you have a plane ticket to go to Singapore to cover the planned summit that was canceled. So are you keeping your reservation?
TIM SHORROCK: Right now I’m keeping it. I mean, yesterday almost canceled it. But then you know, I figured, well, things might change, you know. And actually within an hour he was, you know, he was backing up from what he said earlier yesterday. So yes, I’m keeping my ticket. I’m keeping my hotel reservations. I got all my information that the White House travel office. And if it happens, I’ll go. And you know, maybe it won’t happen on June 12, but I have a feeling that the summit is going to happen. Because you know, the statement that the North Koreans put out yesterday, this Deputy Minister Kim was actually, you know, they actually had kind of kind words for Trump even after he’d canceled it. And you know, he stuck up for, he stuck up for the woman [inaudible] who had written this, you know, blistering polemic that set Trump off. He backed her up, but they also said, you know, they’re willing to talk, and they’re willing to talk to the U.S. any time.
So you know, if anything, you know, North Korea is coming out of this, you know, looking looking pretty levelheaded and looking, you know, kind of moderate in terms of their negotiating strategy, where Trump looks completely incompetent.
AARON MATE: Not for the first time. Well, we’ll leave it there. Tim Shorrock, correspondent for the Nation. His blog Dispatch Korea is available at TimShorrock.com. Tim, thank you.
TIM SHORROCK: Thank you.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on the Real News.