‘Major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible, but diplomacy first, Trump says
Trump says he wants to peacefully resolve a crisis that has bedevilled multiple US presidents, a path that he and his administration are emphasising
U.S. President Donald Trump said a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, while China said the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control.
Trump said he wanted to resolve the crisis peacefully, possibly through the use of new economic sanctions, although a military option was not off the table.
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump spoke in an Oval Office interview ahead of his 100th day in office on Saturday.
“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there was a danger that the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control, his ministry said.
Wang made the comments in a meeting with a Russian diplomat on Thursday at the United Nations, the ministry said in a statement.
China, the only major ally of North Korea, has been increasingly uncomfortable in recent months about its neighbour’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles in violation on UN resolutions.
The United States has called on China to do more to rein in Pyongyang and Trump lavished praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping for his efforts, calling him “a good man”.
“I believe he is trying very hard. He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well.
“With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t,” Trump said.
Trump spoke just a day after he and his top national security advisers briefed US lawmakers on the North Korean threat and one day before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will press the United Nations Security Council on sanctions to further isolate Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programmes.
The Trump administration on Wednesday declared North Korea “an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority.” It said it was focusing on economic and diplomatic pressure, including Chinese cooperation in containing its defiant neighbour and ally, and remained open to negotiations.
Admiral Harry Harris, the top US commander in the Pacific, said on Wednesday the carrier was in the Philippine Sea, within two hours’ striking distance of North Korea if needs be.
Harris also said a US missile defence system being deployed in South Korea to ward off any North Korean attack would be operational in coming days.
China has been angered by the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), complaining that its radar can see deep into China and undermines its security.
Trump said in the interview he wants South Korea to pay the cost of the THAAD, which he estimated at US$1 billion. South Korea, one of Washington’s most crucial allies in the region, said the United States would have to bear the cost, pointing to possible friction ahead.
Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile, a capability experts say Pyongyang could have some time after 2020.
“Trump is recklessly resorting to the hackneyed methods, being utterly ignorant of the DPRK,” the North’s KCNA state news agency said on Friday, citing a commentary from the Rodong Sinmun newspaper and referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Unshakable is the faith and will of the army and people of the DPRK to build a socialist power ... and no force can check their advance.”
Trump, asked if he considered North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to be rational, said he was operating from the assumption that he is rational. He noted that Kim had taken over his country at an early age.
“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age.”
“As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational,” he said.
Foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), meeting in the Philippines, called for the resumption of dialogue.
“Asean strongly urges the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations arising from all relevant UN Security Council resolutions and international laws in the interest of maintaining international peace and security,” they said in a statement.