Trump cites 'progress' in resolving North Korea crisis

After a meeting with South Korean president  Moon Jae-in, Donald Trump said he believes there has been "a lot of progress" in resolving the situation with North Korea, citing the "unparalleled strength" of the U.S. in realizing "movement" on the part of North Korea.

The president didn't say what that movement was, but it was certainly the most optimistic statement on the crisis in many months.


"Yes, I think we're making a lot of progress. Yes, we're showing great strength. I think they understand we have unparalleled strength. There has never been strength like it," Trump said. "I do see certain movement, yes."

The comments marked the first time Trump has signaled US efforts to counter the North Korean threat are yielding positive results. And while he did not signal the military option had left the table, Trump on Tuesday leaned more heavily into his hopes for a diplomatic solution rather than the issuance of threats of military action. 

Trump credited his previous bellicose rhetoric and US military strength in the region for the "movement" he says he is seeing, but went a step further Tuesday to distance himself from any desire to resolve the North Korean threat through military means.

"We have many things happening that we hope, we hope -- in fact, I'll go a step further -- we hope to God we never have to use," Trump said. 

Trump added that he hopes North Korea will "come to the table," though he declined to say whether he would be open to direct talks.

The comments came on the third day of his swing through Asia that took him to Seoul on Tuesday after first stopping in Japan, both visits aimed in part at shoring up key US allies in the face of North Korea's ongoing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. 

Trump again stressed the urgency of curbing North Korea's advances on Tuesday, saying "it's time to act with urgency and with great determination."

And speaking on the eve of his first visit to China, Trump called specifically on the North Korean neighbor as well as Russia to "demand an end to North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"North Korea is a worldwide threat that requires worldwide action," he said.

Trump is not softening his position on North Korea one bit.  The change in tone was almost certainly due to the sensibilities of South Korea, specifically its president, who has said numerous times he prefers diplomacy to war.  In fact, President Moon has been pushing talks with North Korea for months.

Trump mentioning the help of China and Russia was diplomatic, but I'm sure he's been told there's little more they can do.  Both countries are on board with sanctions.  China, especially, as North Korea's biggest trading partner, has leveled its own sanctions against Kim that actually hurt its own economy.

But North Korea isn't called the "Hermit Kingdom" for nothing.  Its national identity is tied up in the idea that its can go it alone.  Anything they need, they can either make themselves or do without.  Sanctions only strengthen their resolve not to give in.  Kim doesn't care how many people are suffering, starving, freezing, or dying.  As long as the army and the elites are comfortable, that's all that matters.

But the survival of his regime is paramount, which makes Trump's threats all too real.  I'm sure he's asked himself what good retaliating after an American attack will be if it still means the end of his regime.  So far, China has refused to support regime change.  But the more Kim plays his nuclear card, the closer China gets to giving up on Kim, making regime change a primary goal of any military action against North Korea.