U.S. Looks at Sanctions, Military Action Against North Korea

  • Pyongyang’s ballistic missile test ‘open defiance’: McMaster
  • House may vote on tighter sanctions by Monday evening

Trump Team Reacts to Latest North Korea Provocations

The U.S. is considering a range of options, from expanded economic sanctions to military operations, as it reaches out to allies in confronting North Korea’s latest provocations, according to a senior Trump administration official. 

North Korea’s ballistic missile test early Saturday was in “open defiance” of the international community, and the risk to the U.S. will not be tolerated, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday.

“We do have to do something” with partners in the region and globally “that involves enforcement of the UN sanctions that are in place,” McMaster said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “It may mean ratcheting up those sanctions even further. And it also means being prepared for military operations, if necessary.”

North Korea’s latest missile test came hours after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson mounted an effort at the United Nations on Friday to rally pressure against Kim Jong Un’s regime. Trump has stepped up pressure to prevent Kim from obtaining the capability to hit North America with a nuclear weapon, and he’s threatened to act unilaterally if China fails to do more to curb its neighbor’s activities.

McMaster said Trump has been “masterful” in courting China, which accounts for the vast majority of trade with Pyongyang.

Leaning on China

“We do see China starting to do something,” including in public statements and the Chinese press, he said. “But it is clear more needs to be done, and we’re going to ask China to do more as we do more as our South Korean and Japanese allies -- but really all nations -- have to take a look at this regime.”

Trump, in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” called the latest launch “a small missile” while declining to say whether he’d take military action if Kim conducts a nuclear test.

“If he does a nuclear test, I will not be happy,” Trump said. “And I can tell you also, I don’t believe that the president of China, who is a very respected man, will be happy either.” Asked if “not happy” meant military action, he said, “I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see.”

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said “I don’t think so” when asked whether Trump is considering a preemptive strike on North Korea. “I think that we have to consider that option as the very last option,’’ McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy plans a floor vote Tuesday on additional sanctions on North Korea. The bill targets North Korea’s shipping industry and people employing North Korean slave labor abroad. The legislation would still need to go to the Senate.

Missile Shield

Meanwhile, Trump last week said he’d told South Korea it would be “appropriate” if they paid some $1 billion for the Thaad missile system designed to intercept any attack from North Korea, in contrary to an existing agreement that South Korea would provide land and facilities while the U.S. paid the cost of operations.

But McMaster and South Korea’s presidential security adviser Chairman Kim Kwan-jin spoke on Sunday to confirm that the U.S. won’t seek money from Seoul to pay for the Thaad system.

“What I told our South Korean counterpart is until any renegotiation that the deal is in place,” McMaster said. “We’ll adhere to our word.”

South Korea can’t renegotiate Thaad payment with the U.S. because it was decided under the parameters of the nations’ security agreement, Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said at a briefing in Seoul on Monday.

Asked about the contradiction between the statements from Trump and McMaster, McCain said, “Sometimes, it’s important to watch what president does rather than what he says.’’

Also on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Trump would not “telegraph his next moves” on North Korea but was working with advisers to determine how to move forward. Asked on ABC’s “This Week” if Trump would hold talks with Kim, Priebus said: “I’m not sure.”

North Korea will keep strengthening its nuclear ability as long as the threat from the U.S. remains, the regime’s official Korean Central News Agency said. “Our steps to accelerate nuclear capabilities will continue frequently and repeatedly at any time and place that our top leadership decides,” KCNA said, citing the foreign ministry.

Warfare Vs. Trade

In his CBS interview, Trump called Kim “a pretty smart cookie.”

Outlining his options on North Korea, Trump also said that securing China’s help in dealing with Pyongyang is “worth making not as good a trade deal for the United States.”

“Trade is very important. But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, trumps trade,” Trump said.

Priebus said the president is looking for cooperation in the region to work “with as many partners in the area as we can get.” Trump called Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte Saturday and has calls scheduled with Singapore and Thailand on Sunday, he said.

Duterte joined China on Saturday in pleading with the U.S. and North Korea to tone down their nuclear brinkmanship, after a meeting of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila. Trump invited Duterte to visit the White House.

Kim’s regime has test-fired ballistic missiles six times this year. He’s launched dozens of projectiles and conducted three nuclear tests since coming to power after his father’s death in 2011, and he claimed in January to be almost ready to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile that would threaten the U.S.

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