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North and South Korea Talk, but Is Trump in the Way?

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[Republished from The Real News Network]

Following more belligerence from President Trump's Twitter account, North and South Korea have announced their first direct talks in years. It's a big step towards rapprochement, says journalist Tim Shorrock, but the U.S. could be a major obstacle.

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Tim Shorrock is a Washington-based journalist who spent part of his youth in South Korea and has been writing about North and South Korea since the late 1970s. He just returned from a two month stay in Gwangju, South Korea, where during the Korean president campaign he interviewed South Korea-s President Moon Jae-In. He writes about US-Korea relations for The Nation and the Korea Center for Investigative Reporting.

AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News, I'm Aaron Mate'. President Trump's Twitter account, again, made global headlines this week, when he bragged that his nuclear button is much bigger and more powerful than North Korea's.

Trump made that comment in response to a New Year's Day speech from North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Un's address included an overture to South Korea, that is now seeing results. First, North and South Korea reopened a border hotline that had been frozen for nearly two years. Just today, the two sides announced that next week, they will hold direct talks for the first time since December 2016.

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Despite Trump's bellicose talk, he's even shown signs of backing off. On Thursday, the U.S. and South Korea agreed to delay their planned joint military games that were set for the end of next month. Is all this a sign of warming relations on the Korean peninsula?

Well, joining me is Tim Shorrock, a journalist who has covered North and South Korea for decades. Tim, welcome. What is your reaction to all that we've seen this week? Does even today's news, especially of direct talks between the two sides, signal a shift in how things have been going?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, they definitely signal a shift between North and South Korea. The problem is, I don't think the United States is very happy about this development at all, although they have postponed the military maneuvers, the military training that's going to happen, that's still going to happen after the Olympics.

It's a very good sign. It's a very good sign that North and South Korea have opened this communication line and then on Tuesday, they're going to talk because North Korea has, you know, that Kim Jong-un said in his January 1st speech, that North Korea would be interested in sending a delegation to the Olympics, which are going to happen in February in South Korea.

They're going to talk about that and hopefully, it will lead to some other kinds of negotiations between the two sides. I think it's very hopeful, but I don't think the United States has much to do with it. If you read the official line on this in the New York Times and the mainstream press, and you read these quotes they bring up from Republican and Democratic foreign policy people, there's a lot of disinterest in this. There's a thinking that South Korea is sort of operating on its own, as if it's not a real independent country. That's a real danger here.

AARON MATÉ: Well, Tim, one of those quotes, I'm going to read to you is from Daniel Russel, speaking to the New York Times. He was a former assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration. He says, "It is fine for the South Koreans to take the lead, but if they don't have the U.S. behind them, they won't get far with North Korea. If the South Koreans are viewed as running off the leash, it will exacerbate tensions within the alliance."

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That's not Trump's Twitter account, that is a former Obama administration official, talking about South Koreans as "running off the leash." What is he referring to there?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, he and most other national security people in Washington, whether they're Republican or Democrat, basically see South Korea as an appendage of the United States. And South Korea is on a tight leash, the U.S. basically, controls South Korea. It's a very illuminating comment I think. Extremely arrogant. It just underscores the arrogance of America towards both Koreas since 1945.

Daniel Russel, of course, he's also the same guy who, during the Obama administration, said if Kim Jong-un obtains super weapons, he will die instantly. Obama and his people made similar threats against North Korea. They just didn't do it quite as loudly, like on Twitter, that Trump has done.

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