BREAKING U.S. Highlights Sanctions, Diplomacy as North Korea Threat Grows – News
U.S. Highlights Sanctions, Diplomacy as North
Korea Threat Grows. U.S. national security leaders emphasized
economic sanctions and diplomacy to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons
and ballistic missile programs, even as the Pentagon ramps up its military presence in
the region with an aircraft carrier battle group and submarine.
“North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is an urgent national security threat and
top foreign policy priority,” according to a joint statement Wednesday by Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence
Dan Coats. “The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean
peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal.”
The statement followed warnings by the Pentagon’s top commander in the Pacific that Pyongyang
is making steady progress toward developing ballistic missiles that can hit the U.S. Kim
Jong Un’s regime is testing those missiles and nuclear devices with growing frequency
and aggressiveness, Admiral Harry Harris said in testimony Wednesday before the House Armed
Services Committee. “The words and actions of North Korea threaten
the U.S. homeland and that of our allies in South Korea and Japan,” Harris said in his
prepared testimony. The U.S. “must be prepared to fight” on short notice, he said.
North Korea is high on the Trump administration’s agenda this week and has been a key topic
of discussion between the president and Chinese leader Xi Jinping this month. Following Harris’s
testimony on Wednesday, President Donald Trump stopped by a White House briefing to which
the entire Senate was invited. While Trump has urged China to help rein in the North
Korean regime, he’s vowed the U.S. will stop the country’s weapons program with
or without Beijing’s help. Lawmakers’ Reaction
“The military is obviously planning for a number of contingencies, a number of options,
as well they should, running the full range from a more minimal military action to a far
more significant military action,” Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz said after the
White House briefing. “It is the hope of the administration, the hope of Congress,
that military action does not prove necessary, that economic and diplomatic pressure will
cause a change in behavior of the regime.” Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware
called the White House briefing “sobering,” adding that the North Korean threat “should
be the top priority of the administration.” Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican,
told reporters a military strike should be well down the administration’s list of alternatives.
“There’re so many options that we need to be taking that are a long ways away from a
strike,” he said. Gardner said diplomatic steps should include “secondary sanctions
on Chinese individuals, entities and companies that are doing business with the North Korean
regime.” The U.S. is working with allies in Asia to
further isolate North Korea economically and block imports used in its nuclear program,
according to a Trump administration official who briefed reporters Wednesday. Many components
of military equipment come from outside the country, and even the tires on vehicles in
North Korea’s military parades are imported, according to the official, who spoke on condition
of anonymity. New Legislation
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce said that Congress would pursue legislation to
crack down on financial institutions that have ties to the North Korean government.
“There is additional legislation which we are going to move very quickly that will also
choke off some of the hard currency that this regime uses for its nuclear program,” the
California Republican said after attending a separate administration briefing on North
Korea for House members. But Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat
from California who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Trump administration
isn’t applying enough pressure on China to use its influence to rein in North Korea.
“What was lost in the discussion is that they are unwilling to do anything that would
put real pressure or China or use our ability to impose tariffs,” Sherman told reporters
Wednesday. “Because these are things that Wall Street would reject.”
Tillerson is heading to New York on Friday to chair a session on North Korea at the United
Nations Security Council. Read how Trump’s ‘Armada’ can’t knock
down Kim’s missiles While the joint statement emphasized diplomacy,
the U.S. continued to move a battle group led by an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson,
toward the region. At the same time, the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine capable
of carrying 154 Tomahawks, arrived at the South Korean port of Busan this week. The
move was was described by the Pentagon, which typically doesn’t discuss submarine movements,
as part of a routine patrol. Pressed by lawmakers, Admiral Harris wouldn’t
discuss publicly scenarios for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, though he did
address the risk that U.S. action could be met by a response that would kill many South
Koreans, Japanese and U.S. troops in the region. “A lot more Koreans and Japanese and Americans
die” if Kim’s regime reaches its nuclear arms goals, Harris said.
China has also sought to calm tensions on the Korean Peninsula by emphasizing diplomacy.
Speaking by phone with Trump on Monday, Xi urged all parties to avoid actions that might
make the situation worse, and to work within the framework of UN Security Council resolutions,
according to state broadcaster China Central Television.
The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper known for its nationalist views,
said North Korea stands to lose the most in a conflict.
“The game of chicken between Washington and Pyongyang has come to a breaking point,”
the newspaper wrote in an editorial published Tuesday.
Amid the heightened tensions, U.S. forces have begun installing a more advanced system
for tracking and intercepting ballistic missiles than South Korea’s current network of shorter-range Patriot
batteries can hit. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, known as Thaad, should
be operational by the end of the year, according to South Korea’s defense ministry. American
forces are working with Korea to complete the deployment “as soon as feasible,”
the U.S. Defense Department said in an emailed statement.
South Korean Election The introduction of Thaad has angered China,
which is concerned it could be used to spy on its own facilities. The anti-missile system
also has become a campaign issue ahead of South Korea’s May 9 presidential election,
with frontrunner Moon Jae-in denouncing the expedited deployment while his closest rival
Ahn Cheol-soo says it must take place. In his testimony, Harris also endorsed Trump
administration statements that the U.S. goal isn’t to topple Kim’s regime. “We want
to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, not to his knees,” he said.