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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

After all the threats and sweet talk, North Korea sticks to its missiles

For all of President Donald Trump's scary-turned-sweet theatrics over North Korea, dictator Kim Jong Un's regime was revealed in satellite photos this week as still making improvements to more than a dozen missile sites it had before.

The sites have long been known to American intelligence agencies and can be equipped to launch conventional or nuclear warheads, according to published reports. 

What now?

To some in the U.S., South Korea might look as if it is living on the side of a volcano. It is nearby and technically still in a state of war against the rogue North. But the tone of official statements betrayed neither surprise nor alarm.

"There is nothing new" in the missile-site story, Kim Eui Keum, spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told reporters Tuesday, as quoted by NBC News. North Korea "has never signed any agreement, any negotiation that makes shutting down missile bases mandatory."

While South Korea's allies in the Trump administration keep up the posture of how tough sanctions are, the nations on both sides of the Korean peninsula are trading goods. A limited north-south pact was signed in September.

On Monday, officials said South Korea had airlifted 200 tons of tangerines to North Korea in exchange for shipments of pine mushrooms.

The British newspaper The Independent described how South Korean military planes flew to Pyongyang and delivered the fruit from the southern island of Jeju. 

North Korea already had sent South Korea the pine mushrooms as a goodwill gesture. It was done before and after summit meetings in 2000 and 2007.

Trump famously threatened "fire and fury" if the North Koreans didn't denuclearize, then met with Kim, and decommissioned the mocking nickname "Rocket Man." Despite decades of repressive atrocities by Kim and his predecessor father, Trump described him for their big photo-op as "a talented man who loves his country very much."

This week, Trump presented a kind of reversal of the Kim drama. The president had started out months ago in the throes of a strange political bromance with French President Emmanuel Macron, but now throws put-downs instead of bouquets as Macron slams Trump-style "nationalism."

Tuesday's most sneering Trump tweet: "It was Germany in World Wars One & Two — How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!"

Judging by the status quo in Korea, it may well be that Trump's latest friction with Macron will in itself have no tangible impact at all — and that governments will go on much as before despite all the huffing and puffing.

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