Aides de­fend Trump’s ‘fury’ for N. Korea as strate­gic

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Tracy Wilkin­son and Jonathan Kaiman

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump’s chill­ing threat to un­leash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” against North Korea sent shock waves across the Pa­cific, but the ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gued Wed­nes­day that it was care­fully crafted for a spe­cial au­di­ence of one: Kim Jong Un.

By re­mind­ing North Korea’s young ruler in crude terms of Amer­ica’s vastly larger nu­clear ar­se­nal, Trump ap­peared to be play­ing a di­plo­matic good-cop, bad-cop rou­tine with Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, who has re­peat­edly called for find­ing a way to re­sume ne­go­ti­a­tions with the gov­ern­ment in Py­ongyang.

“What the pres­i­dent is do­ing is send­ing a strong mes­sage to North Korea in lan­guage that Kim Jong Un would un­der­stand be­cause he doesn’t seem to un­der­stand di­plo­matic lan­guage,” Tiller­son said en route to Guam af­ter a di­plo­matic swing through South­east Asia. “I think it was im­por­tant that he de­liver that mes­sage to avoid any mis­cal­cu­la­tion on their part.”

Less clear is whether it was an in­ten­tional strat­egy or an im­pro­vised gam­bit by an ad­min­is­tra­tion strug­gling to find its foot­ing in an in­ter­na­tional cri­sis. The White House con­firmed that Trump had ad-libbed his grim warn­ing Tues­day, but in­sisted he did so only af­ter con­sult­ing with his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sors.

“The words were his own,” Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, the White House press sec­re­tary, told re­porters near the pres­i­dent’s golf re­sort in Bed­min­ster, N.J., where he is on a work­ing va­ca­tion. “The tone and strength of the mes­sage were dis­cussed be­fore­hand.”

“We are all on the same page,” agreed Heather Nauert, the State Depart­ment spokes­woman. “We are speak­ing with one voice. And the world is speak­ing with one voice.”

It was eas­ier to hear a ca­coph­ony of voices Wed­nes­day from the Trump team and from around the world, how­ever, a jar­ring mix of mes­sages that did lit­tle to ease ten­sions.

Speak­ing to re­porters, Tiller­son called for calm, say­ing that Amer­ica does not face “any im­mi­nent threat, in my own view” and that “Amer­i­cans should sleep well at night.”

Hours later, De­fense Sec­re­tary James N. Mat­tis spoke of Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary might and warned Py­ongyang to “cease any con­sid­er­a­tion of ac­tions that would lead to the end of its regime and the de­struc­tion of its peo­ple.”

Py­ongyang ini­tially re­sponded by say­ing it was con­sid­er­ing a mis­sile strike against U.S. mil­i­tary bases on the Pa­cific is­land of Guam.

But on Wed­nes­day, the Korean Peo­ple’s Army broad­ened its aim, threat­en­ing to “turn the U.S. main­land into the the­ater of a nu­clear war.”

Py­ongyang also or­ga­nized a gi­ant rally, com­plete with pro­pa­ganda posters and wav­ing fists, to show­case the coun­try’s mil­i­tary fer­vor. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple packed Kim Il Sung Square in down­town Py­ongyang to protest the lat­est round of United Na­tions sanc­tions.

The re­ac­tion in North­east Asia to the es­ca­lat­ing war of words ranged from ex­pres­sions of alarm by U.S. al­lies to calls for re­straint from China, which has been Py­ongyang’s clos­est po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ally since the Korean War in the 1950s.

A com­men­tary on the state-run New China News Agency on Wed­nes­day warned all sides “not to play with fire.”

It called for “mak­ing re­spon­si­ble choices to en­sure peace, par­tic­u­larly at a mo­ment ap­proach­ing cri­sis,” say­ing it’s not too late to ease ten­sions and re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

“Py­ongyang should sus­pend its bal­lis­tic mis­sile and nu­clear pro­grams while Wash­ing­ton and Seoul sus­pend their joint mil­i­tary drills,” the com­men­tary said.

South Korea’s new pres­i­dent, Moon Jae-in, called for a “re­birth” of the na­tion’s mil­i­tary to build up the coun­try’s de­fenses. Ja­pan, which also is within range of North Korean mis­siles, also is con­sid­er­ing a sharp mil­i­tary ex­pan­sion.

‘The pres­sure is start­ing to show. I think that’s why the rhetoric com­ing out of Py­ongyang has got­ten louder and more threat­en­ing.’ — Rex Tiller­son, U.S. sec­re­tary of State

Six-party mul­ti­lat­eral talks with North Korea to cur­tail its nu­clear pro­gram broke off in 2009. Since 2006, North Korea has con­ducted five un­der­ground nu­clear tests, in­clud­ing two last year, and built an es­ti­mated ar­se­nal of at least 20 nu­clear arms.

Py­ongyang also suc­cess­fully tested a long-range mis­sile last month deemed ca­pa­ble of reach­ing Cal­i­for­nia and be­yond.

U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies as­sess that Py­ongyang can build a nu­clear war­head small enough to fit atop its mis­siles, but can­not yet build one ro­bust enough to sur­vive the mis­sile’s reen­try into the at­mos­phere.

Ex­cept for the bel­li­cose talk, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pears to be largely fol­low­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion play­book on North Korea: mar­shal­ing di­plo­matic, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary forces to per­suade Py­ongyang to freeze its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams be­fore they pose an un­ac­cept­able di­rect threat to the United States.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s only vis­i­ble suc­cess so far came at the U.N., when the 15 mem­bers of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously Satur­day to add a new round of sanc­tions to pun­ish North Korea for its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams.

The U.N. res­o­lu­tion barred North Korea from ex­port­ing coal and other raw ma­te­ri­als that are cru­cial to its econ­omy. The ban is ex­pected to cost the coun­try more than $1 bil­lion, about a third its to­tal ex­ports last year.

U.S. Am­bas­sador to the U.N. Nikki Ha­ley called the res­o­lu­tion “the sin­gle largest eco­nomic sanc­tions pack­age ever lev­eled against the North Korean regime” and “the most strin­gent set of sanc­tions on any coun­try in a gen­er­a­tion.”

Whether it will per­suade Kim’s gov­ern­ment to dial back its of­fen­sive arms pro­grams, or at least the nu­clear and mis­sile tests, is far from clear. Pre­vi­ous sanc­tions have done lit­tle to slow the coun­try’s rush to build a cred­i­ble nu­clear de­ter­rent and strike force.

Chi­nese and Rus­sian of­fi­cials have spent the last 48 hours in­sist­ing to their North Korean coun­ter­parts that Py­ongyang com­ply with the sanc­tions, Tiller­son said.

Speak­ing to re­porters on the flight to Guam, Tiller­son also said he was con­fi­dent he was able to gal­va­nize sup­port against North Korea dur­ing his just-con­cluded visit to South­east Asia.

He at­tended an an­nual re­gional se­cu­rity con­fer­ence in the Philip­pines, be­came the high­est-rank­ing U.S. of­fi­cial to visit Thai­land since a 2014 mil­i­tary coup and met Malaysian lead­ers in Kuala Lumpur.

North Korean com­pa­nies and diplo­mats use Thai­land and Malaysia to pro­cure goods and tech­nol­ogy, and U.S. of­fi­cials want to stop the trade.

“I think, in fact, the pres­sure is start­ing to show,” Tiller­son said. “I think that’s why the rhetoric com­ing out of Py­ongyang has got­ten louder and more threat­en­ing.

“Whether we’ve got them backed into a cor­ner or not is dif­fi­cult to say, but diplo­mat­i­cally, you never like to have some­one in a cor­ner with­out a way for them to get out.”

“Talks,” Tiller­son said when asked whether North Korea had a way out. “Talks, with the right ex­pec­ta­tion of what those talks will be about.”

Fazry Is­mail Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

SEC­RE­TARY of State Rex Tiller­son ar­rives in Malaysia. He said Pres­i­dent Trump “is send­ing a strong mes­sage to North Korea in lan­guage that Kim Jong Un would un­der­stand.”

Air­man 1st Class Ger­ald Willis U.S. Air Force

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer on a mis­sion from Guam f lies near the Korean penin­sula. North Korea said it was con­sid­er­ing strik­ing U.S. bases in Guam.

Korean Cen­tral News Agency

U.S. OF­FI­CIALS have warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, to “cease any con­sid­er­a­tion of ac­tions that would lead to the end” of his gov­ern­ment.

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