US senator says America must not attack North Korea if talks fail, despite security chief John Bolton’s advice
A pre-emptive strike is believed to be favoured by US security head John Bolton, who has said the only option is ‘to end the regime in North Korea’ and strike first
A top US Democratic senator has lashed out against the idea of a pre-emptive military strike by America on North Korea if upcoming talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fail to produce significant results.
The option is believed to be widely favoured by Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton and other members of the president’s increasingly hawkish cabinet.
Bolton declared in a Fox News interview last year that the only option left to address the North Korean nuclear challenge is “to end the regime in North Korea” and strike first.
But Edward Markey, the top Democrat on the Senate East Asia subcommittee, told an Atlantic Council event on Friday that “a failed Trump-Kim summit cannot become a stepping stone for a war, preventive or otherwise, initiated by the United States”.
“Diplomacy backed by pressure is the only way to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis,” Markey said. “Should the talks collapse, however, a preventive strike still will not be justified.”
Notwithstanding current diplomatic efforts to achieve the removal of nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, Trump has repeatedly said “all options are on the table” regarding the handling of North Korea, including what the administration refers to as a limited “bloody nose” strike.
In January, the White House dropped plans to nominate Victor Cha, a former member of the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, for the Seoul ambassadorship because Cha expressed concern about going to the “bloody nose” option to deal with North Korea.
Bolton, who has warned in recent months that diplomatic efforts to quell North Korean aggression are futile, said in the Fox News interview that “anybody who thinks that more diplomacy with North Korea, more sanctions, whether against North Korea or an effort to apply sanctions against China, is just giving North Korea more time to increase its nuclear arsenal”.
“We have fooled around with North Korea for 25 years, and fooling around some more is just going to make matters worse.”
An impassioned Markey warned the “bloody nose” strategy could topple the region off a political “cliff”, with massive ramifications for the world.
“We need to avoid that outcome at all cost,” he said.
Trump said on Friday at the White House that “two or three” sites and “three or four” dates have been under consideration for his proposed meeting with Kim in May or early June.
That parley is to follow the historic inter-Korean meeting last week between the North Korean leader and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the demilitarised zone.
Despite a lack of significant results coming from previous meetings in 2007 and 2000, the latest summit was seen as moving the Korean peninsula closer to peace, 65 years after the signing of the armistice that unofficially halted the hostilities.
Markey revealed that he told Trump directly at the White House in October that only a diplomatic resolution to the North Korea issue can prevent the issue from “turning down to catastrophic [consequences] quickly”.
The senator made the appeal to the US president after he led the first US Congressional delegation that visited Dandong, a border city in China connected to North Korea via a major railway bridge.
North Korea, increasingly feeling the impact of years of United Nations and US economic sanctions, more than ever depends on China’s oil and food supply for survival.
The senator also urged the Trump administration to fill vacant diplomatic posts at the State Department ahead of the Trump-Kim summit.
The State Department currently has at least four diplomatic jobs open related to North Korean affairs, including a special envoy for North Korean policy, an ambassador to Seoul, a sanctions coordinator and an envoy for North Korean human rights issues.
On top of those vacancies, the US Senate still has not confirmed Susan Thornton as the acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
Without a fully staffed State Department, Markey said, the administration has fewer resources for building a diplomatic tool kit and fewer officials to hold North Korea accountable for its efforts to develop a nuclear arsenal capable of threatening the US.
“We cannot squander this opportunity [in the US-North Korea summit] by sidelining the expertise of those inside and outside of the government who have spent their careers trying to understand the nuances of nuclear negotiations of the Kim regime,” Markey said.
Although Trump has agreed to Kim’s proposal that they meet face-to-face – an unprecedented move that has raised hopes of a peaceful resolution to growing tensions on the Korean peninsula – wariness over the sincerity of Kim’s stated commitment to “denuclearisation” abounds.
The US has continued to maintain pressure on the regime, backing new sanctions on companies accused of doing business with Pyongyang.
It also had joined South Korean troops in holding military exercises until a recess was called ahead of the upcoming Trump-Kim meeting.