Trump says force not ‘inevitable’ but it remains an option against North Korea
President Donald Trump said it’s not “inevitable” that the US will wind up in a war with North Korea over its continued development of nuclear weapons, but that military action remains an option.
“Nothing’s inevitable,” Trump said in a news conference on Thursday at the White House with the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah. “I would prefer not going the route of the military, but it is something certainly that could happen.”
He declined to say whether he’d accept a nuclear-armed North Korea that can be successfully deterred from using atomic weapons. A senior administration official later told reporters that the US will not allow North Korea to extort or threaten the world with its nuclear programme, and that the administration is not sure the country can be deterred.
The Trump administration is seeking to ratchet up pressure on North Korea after the country tested what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb on Sunday, following several successful tests of ballistic missiles with intercontinental range.
The official said that the danger of war is rising, and that the US is also concerned about North Korea exporting its nuclear technology to other nations or to terror groups. Any threat to the US or its allies will be met with a massive military response, the official said.
“North Korea is behaving very badly and it’s got to stop,” Trump said at the press conference.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the two leaders “decisively condemned” North Korean weapons tests.
“We decisively condemned North Korea’s launch of a medium-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan’s territory on August 28, as well as the new nuclear tests conducted on September 3,” Putin said in a statement.
Putin reiterated that the crisis around North Korea should be resolved only by political means, and that it posed a threat to peace and stability in the region.
He called for it to be resolved through a road map proposed by Moscow and Beijing.
The US is circulating a draft resolution at the United Nations that would bar crude oil shipments to North Korea, ban the nation’s exports of textiles and prohibit employment of its guest workers by other countries, according to a diplomat at the world body.
The proposal also calls for freezing the assets of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But China and Russia, both of which have veto power in the Security Council, have indicated resistance to imposing more sanctions on North Korea.
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke for 45 minutes Wednesday as the US president seeks China’s help in putting pressure on Pyongyang. While both sides released statements agreeing on the goal of eliminated nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula, there was no mention of next steps.
China also agreed at the United Nations on Thursday that more action should be taken against North Korea, though it also pushed for dialogue to help resolve the stand-off.
Top Trump administration officials including Defence Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford briefed Congress on Wednesday about the crisis and the administration’s approach.
European Union ministers agreed to impose further sanctions on North Korea, the bloc’s current chair Estonia said, as part of international pressure following Pyongyang’s largest nuclear test to date.
The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini, who held talks with the bloc’s 28 foreign ministers in the Estonian capital Tallinn on Thursday, said the situation could turn “extremely dangerous” as Pyongyang “might act quite irrationally”.
“I would propose to ministers today to strengthen the economic pressure on North Korea, supporting a new UN Security Council resolution adopting tougher economic measures, starting new autonomous EU sanctions,” she told reporters.
Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel and France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian backed ratcheting up the sanctions, while the ministers of Belgium and Estonia also stressed the need to simultaneously seek a diplomatic solution.
“With the ongoing missile tests, it’s not impossible to imagine that a technical failure or a human error can result in catastrophic consequences,” Estonia’s Sven Mikser said.
Sanctions have so far done little to stop North Korea boosting its nuclear and missile capacity. Western diplomats said China, which is North Korea’s main trade partner, is largely responsible for patchy enforcement.
Mogherini and Nato’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed in Tallinn that all the existing curbs must be fully implemented.
Beyond the international sanctions agreed by the UN Security Council, the EU also has its own broad punitive measures in place, which means options for tightening them further are limited.
The EU’s current sanctions ban almost all trade and investment with the reclusive regime, and require any cargo and personal luggage bound for North Korea to be inspected.