A man watches a television screen showing President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. President Donald Trump issued a new threat to North Korea on Thursday, demanding that Kim Jong Un’s government “get their act together” or face extraordinary trouble. He said his previous “fire and fury” warning to Pyongyang might have been too mild. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

 

This has been a week of what could be seismic movement in trying to avoid war with North Korea. On Tuesday, a South Korean official said that North Korea had agreed to denuclearizaiton, without preconditions, and that North and South Korea had plans to negotiate a peace treaty. On Wednesday, the White House confirmed that CIA director and Secretary of State-nominee Mike Pompeo had secretly visited North Korea and met with Kim Jong Un over Easter weekend. Sort of amazing what doesn’t leak out when the NSC isn’t involved, no?

Today the stakes were raised.

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First, President Trump said that the US would maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea and he was fully prepared to walk away from talks if he didn’t think they were productive:

Later in the day, South Korea President Moon Jae-in had more information:

North Korea has expressed its commitment to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and is not seeking conditions, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday, as the United States vowed to maintain “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang.

Moon said big-picture agreements about denuclearization, establishing a peace regime and normalization of relations between the two Koreas and the United States should not be difficult to reach through summits between the North and South, and between the North and the United States.

“I don’t think denuclearization has different meanings for South and North Korea,” Moon said during a lunch with chief executives of Korean media companies. “The North is expressing a will for a complete denuclearization.”

“They have not attached any conditions that the U.S. cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea,” he continued. “All they are talking about is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security.”

This is pretty significant. Unlike an anonymous bureaucrat earlier in the week, this is the South Korean president placing his personal prestige on the line. If North Korea acts to embarrass him, they have just lost the only braking mechanism in an inexorable march to war.

If Moon is correct, and North Korea is basically asking for an end to sanctions and an end to military exercises directed at North Korea in exchange for verifiable dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program…key phrase “I don’t think denuclearization has different meanings for South and North Korea”…then this is a huge win. Not only for Trump but for the region, which will have averted war, and for the North Korea people.