Trump and Kim: the war of words continues

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, has proffered an olive branch to South Korea, says the Financial Times. His New Year’s address acknowledged the need to reduce military tension with the South and opened the door to dialogue.

In spite of these overtures, Kim maintained his hostile stance towards the US, urging the mass production of nuclear weapons in defiance of the toughest UN sanctions yet. “The US should be aware it is a reality, not a threat, that a nuclear button is always on my desk. All of the US mainland is now within the striking distance of our nuclear weapons.”

President Donald Trump responded a few hours later by tweeting about his “much bigger and more powerful” button, a remark dismissed by Christopher Hill, the former US ambassador and veteran negotiator with North Korea as “not helpful”.

The reopening of the hotline between North and South Korea after nearly two years is “part of a carefully planned strategy” by Kim Jong-un, says The Times. “Driving a wedge” between South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, and Trump, is “an obvious and attractive ploy for Pyongyang”.

Talks between the North and South could open the door to wider negotiations “in which the US, China and Russia could offer economic and diplomatic incentives in return for a freeze in nuclear testing”, say Choe Sang-hun and David Sanger in The New York Times. However, that would mean freezing a status quo that Trump regards as “intolerable”.

Yet the US has few other choices, says Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. North Korea has been conducting nuclear weapons tests ever since George W Bush was president. How does it help America to say it will not tolerate what it is already tolerating?

The alternative is a “bloodbath”. “Everyone needs to lower the temperature and begin talking in reasonable terms about achievable goals. Something is wrong when the rhetoric from Pyongyang is no more belligerent than what we hear around Washington.”