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DON'T PANIC

North Korea breakthrough “just delayed,” says top US commander in South Korea

General Vincent Brooks, commander of United States Forces Korea, gives a lecture, organized by the Association of the Republic of Korea Army, at a hotel in Seoul, South Korea, 03 November 2017.
EPA-EFE/Yonhap
Authoritative.
  • Steve Mollman
By Steve Mollman

Weekend editor

This article is more than 2 years old.

Amid the widespread diplomatic uncertainty caused by Donald Trump abruptly canceling the upcoming US-North Korea summit yesterday (May 24), one key voice has remained remarkably calm: that of the top US military commander on the Korean peninsula.

General Vincent Brooks, who commands 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea, said today (May 25) in Seoul, ”I am not worried about it because the opportunity is not lost. It is just delayed.”

Brooks also leads the South Korea-US Combined Forces Command, as well as the United Nations Command.

Trump earlier this week cast doubts on the summit happening as planned on June 12 in Singapore, but he said, ”Someday, a date will absolutely happen.”

His decision to cancel appeared to happen so abruptly that there was not sufficient time to warn allies ahead of the announcement. South Korean president Moon Jae-in said he was “very perplexed” by the decision, and other world leaders expressed disappointment with it.

North Korea itself seemed taken aback. A report by the state-controlled KCNA news agency struck an almost gentle tone. First vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan expressed “great regret” for Trump’s decision, and said North Korea remains “broad-minded and open all the time” for further discussions with the US.

The KCNA piece even seemed to flatter Trump, stating of the summit: “We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit.”

But many felt the Trump administration was rushing into a summit too quickly, with insufficient preparation. It wasn’t even clear that the two sides meant the same thing by “denuclearization.” Trump agreed to the meeting abruptly earlier this year, taking many by surprise.

Robert Kelly, a professor of political science at South Korea’s Pusan National University, told CNN earlier this week that
“the Trump administration is going into [the summit] very, very quickly.” He said the most sensible solution would be to postpone the meeting for six to eight months, and allow negotiators to “hammer out a framework to narrow the differences between the two sides.”

The tone in today’s KCNA release was in marked contrast to the angry statements by North Korea earlier this week that apparently prompted Trump to cancel the summit. If Trump was aiming to change the North Korean tone by canceling the meeting—with an eye toward later rescheduling it—that gamble might have paid off.

Brooks said it’s “too early to quit” on the idea of a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea. And, he added, it might have been “too early to celebrate.”

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