U.S. says every option on table for N. Korea
Tillerson says 20 years of diplomacy has been a failure.
In Seoul, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that could mean military action, as he derides 20 years of diplomacy as a failure.
The Trump administration gave its clearest signal yet that it would consider taking military action against North Korea, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that “all options are on the table” to deter the threat from Pyongyang.
Tensions are running high in Northeast Asia, with North Korea making observable progress toward its goal of building a missile that could reach the U.S. mainland and China incensed over South Korea’s decision to deploy an American antimissile battery.
“Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Tillerson said at a news conference in Seoul with Yun Byung-se, the South Korean foreign minister.
He was referring to the Obama administration policy of trying to wait North Korea out, hoping that sanctions would prove so crippling that Pyongyang would have no choice but to return to denuclearization negotiations.
“We’re exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table,” Tillerson said, adding that while the United States does not want military conflict, threats “would be met with an appropriate response.”
“If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table,” Tillerson said.
In a surprise turn of events, Yun appeared to suggest that South Korea would support military options.
“We have various policy methods available,” Yun said. “If imposing diplomatic pressure is a building, military deterrence would be one of the pillars of this building. We plan to have all relevant nations work together more closely than in the past and make sure that North Korea, feeling pain for its wrongdoings, changes its strategy.”
Sanctions and diplomatic engagement so far have failed to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. But U.S. administrations have long considered military action out of the question because North Korea has artillery targeting Seoul, a metropolitan area of more than 20 million people just 30 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas.
Now, however, military threats are becoming one of the few remaining options for dealing with North Korea, said Hahm Chai-bong, president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
“At this point, it’s almost the inevitable next step in the escalation. The only thing is that we’ve never been here before,” Hahm said. “The U.S. and South Korea have never put this much pressure on North Korea or responded in such a direct way before.”
Some lawmakers in Seoul are pushing for the return of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, while there is increasingly open talk in Washington of military strikes against North Korea if it tests an intercontinental ballistic missile.
North Korea is known for its exaggerated and bellicose rhetoric, but the combination of threats and missile launches, coinciding with Chinese anger at South Korea, has raised tensions in the region to a level seldom seen in recent years.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said earlier this year that North Korea is working on an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
President Donald Trump responded in a tweet: “It won’t happen!”
But his administration, which is now conducting a review of North Korea policy, has given few clues as to how it might stop Kim in his tracks. As part of that policy review, Tillerson is visiting Japan, South Korea and China to hear those governments’ views.
In Tokyo on Thursday, he said that 20 years of diplomatic efforts to prod North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions had failed. He went further in Seoul on Friday, signaling that multilateral talks were not under consideration.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) listens to South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se during a joint news conference Friday in Seoul, South Korea. Tillerson is touring Asia.