- - Thursday, December 21, 2017


Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson had a bright idea not long ago. “Let’s just meet,” he said in a message to North Korea. “We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table, if that’s what you’re excited about.”

Mr. Tillerson sometimes comes across as a bit naive for a man who not so long ago used to hang out with oil-field roughnecks. He’s more of an Eagle Scout now, and he seems to be following the advice of think-tank commandos and pundits of the editorial pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times, who relish dialogue uber allies.

President Trump, having concluded that there’s not much to discuss with the brutal regime in Pyongyang, whether the weather, table shape, or anything else, was neither impressed nor amused. He, too, has hung out with tough guys on construction jobs. North Korea has made it clear that it will pursue not talk, but pursuit of nuclear-power status, and conversation won’t be allowed to stop that. Actually, North Korea has done pretty well in discussions with a succession of American presidents given to jaw, jaw (in Churchill’s memorable phrase). Such talk encouraged the Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions by invariably leading to aid programs for the regime. The 1994 “Agreed Framework” between the Clinton administration and North Korea, for one shining example, was a disaster for America and the West. North Korea covertly continued its weapons program even as the United States showered fuel and other necessities on the regime.

Mr. Trump understands how this works. He overruled his secretary of state’s plea almost immediately. Maximum pressure of sanctions is much more persuasive than diplomatic happy talk. It’s good that the president appears to be keenly aware of this, and he’s done a solid job in getting the reluctant Chinese aboard for tougher sanctions on Rocket Man and his regime, with much more to be done.

As if to apply more egg to the secretary’s face, Rodong Sinmum, the state-run Pyongyang newspaper, scoffs at Mr. Tillerson’s suggestion, saying North Korea “has no interest in the dialogue intermittently put up by the U.S. which is sneered by the international community for failing to mind its internal affairs.” Straight to the point, North Korea says it “never put its nukes and ballistic missiles on the table of negotiations nor flinch even an inch from the already chosen road of bolstering up the nuclear force.” Hope can spring eternal, but that sounds like a “no.” Any roughneck would see that.

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