On the same day as reports of another North Korean nuclear weapons test surfaced, President Donald Trump criticized U.S. ally South Korea, accusing its new president of “appeasement” for supporting dialogue to avoid nuclear weapons proliferation on the Korean Peninsula.
“South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” Trump tweeted Sunday morning.
Trump’s comments came a day after reports emerged that the president instructed advisers to prepare to withdraw the United States from a free-trade agreement with South Korea. As president, Trump has promised to fight what he views as unfair trade competition. But the Washington Post reported Saturday that the president’s top national security and economic advisers are pushing him to abandon his plan to sever trade ties with South Korea, saying it would hamper U.S. economic growth and harm ties with an important ally.
South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2017
Ely Ratner, a top national security official in the Obama administration, told the New York Times that Trump is “coming out swinging” at South Korea and China at a time when the United States is going to need close cooperation with the two countries. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told CNN on Sunday that he opposes undoing the trade agreement with South Korea and found the move by the Trump administration a “troubling sign.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, responded to Trump with his own tweet: “Foreign policy, unhinged. Find me one expert whose advice on how to deal with North Korea is ‘Pick a fight with South Korea.'”
Foreign policy, unhinged. Find me one expert whose advice on how to deal with North Korea is "Pick a fight with South Korea". https://t.co/oQDi8U8cAV
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) September 3, 2017
The critical tweets on South Korea and the provocative statements directed toward North Korea are leading experts to question whether Trump fully grasps the seriousness of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. “That the administration would even consider canceling the agreement in the midst of the North Korean missile and nuclear crisis is astonishing,” Michael Green, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the New York Times. “It’s probably all theater, but it has negative strategic consequences as we try to manage the North Korean threat.”
Trump provocatively vowed last month that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” — an action that would presumably kill hundreds of thousands of North Korean civilians — if the nation’s regime didn’t back away from its nuclear weapons testing program.
A month later, North Korea announced it had tested its largest ever nuclear device and is in possession of a powerful hydrogen bomb capable of being mounted on a long-range missile. Upon leaving church Sunday morning, Trump reportedly said “we’ll see” when asked whether he plans to order the U.S. military to attack North Korea, and tweeted shortly thereafter that he was gathering Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and other military advisors at the White House to discuss North Korea.
Last week, Trump tweeted that “talking is not the answer” in terms of dealing with North Korea, even though most experts and international leaders, including South Korea President Moon Jae-in, have argued for continuing dialogue with North Korea over its nuclear program.