Reader PJ emails: “Now what’s going on here? Is Donald Trump making deals with North Korea? Is he going to give Americans away in exchange for something?” The reference is to yet another weird story (this one from the Washington Post; here it is, sans paywall) about the mysterious 10-person group that raided the North Korean embassy in Madrid in February, tied up the people inside, stole their computers and turned the gathered intelligence materials over to United States authorities.
It appears the US government may be preparing to extradite a pair of alleged ringleaders, both of them Korean-Americans, back to Spain to face the music in response to Madrid’s request.
Regarding the reader’s questions, note that there are other reasons more likely to be foremost in administration thinking here than a desire to make a deal by giving Americans away in exchange for something.
First, agreeing to extradition requests when treaties call for doing so is the default response. Imagine what mischief might result if the Trump administration refused to consider handing the culprits over to Spain for trial. Washington has embassies abroad and certainly does not want them violated by revolutionaries – no matter how appealing the revolutionaries’ cause.
Of course, it would be hard for many Americans to think of a more appealing revolutionary cause than toppling the Kim regime. For the moment, though, regime change in Pyongyang is not US policy and the administration may well think it’s a good idea to remind Chairman Kim Jong Un of that fact, as the North Korean ruler ponders his future options in view of Trump’s apparent loss of enthusiasm for granting Kim’s number one policy wish: removal of US troops from South Korea.
Is there a consolation prize Kim might accept in return for some moves toward the denuclearization the US seeks? Trump, who keeps reminding us of his bromance with Kim, probably would be right to see no need to alienate the North Korean leader unnecessarily now.
Less to the point, the embassy raiders are the same guys who earlier helped to rescue and hide Kim Han Sol, son of Kim Jong Un’s elder brother Kim Jong Nam, after Pyongyang agents assassinated Jong Nam at a Malaysian airport. They may see the younger man as a future ruler or figurehead once they kick out Kim Jong Un.
The problem with any such scheme is that dynastic rule is at the root of North Korea’s problems. I have previously sought to advise young Kim Han Sol that the last thing his countrymen need is a fourth-generation Kim ruler.