U.S. warns North Korea, pressures China
WASHINGTON — The United States warned Wednesday that North Korea was “quickly closing off” the prospect of a diplomatic resolution to its provocations, a day after Pyongyang successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile.
Tuesday’s ICBM launch, confirmed by U.S. and South Korean officials, was a milestone in North Korea’s efforts to develop long-range, nuclear-armed missiles. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the missile was a version not previously seen and that it had an estimated range in excess of 3,400 miles. It was sent not from a fixed site but from a mobile launcher, which can be harder to target.
Labeling the rocket an ICBM reflects a U.S. assessment that North Korea now may be capable of striking the U.S. — possibly Hawaii or Alaska — though it’s believed to be some way from the capability to deliver a nuclear payload to the U.S. mainland.
President Donald Trump and other senior officials dangled the prospect of punishing countries that trade with North Korea — a threat aimed directly at China, Pyongyang’s biggest benefactor. In a tweet Wednesday morning, Trump questioned why the U.S. should continue what he sees as bad trade deals “with countries that do not help us.”
Some administration officials are still holding out hope of persuading China to ratchet up economic pressure on Pyongyang. Trump, who departed for Europe on Wednesday, is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany.
After the launch, the White House, the Treasury Department, the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies accelerated discussions on options for responding to Pyongyang’s nuclear pursuits. The talks center in part on the same ideas previous administrations have considered, including direct
diplomatic negotiations and pre-emptive military action.
In a show of force, U.S. and South Korean troops on Wednesday fired “deep strike” precision missiles off South Korea’s east coast. South Korea’s military later released previously shot video showing the test-firing of sophisticated South Korean missiles and a computer-generated image depicting a North Korean flag in flames with the backdrop of a major building in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.
The top U.S. general in South Korea said “self-restraint” was all that was keeping the United States and South Korea from going to war with the North.
The unusually blunt warning from Gen. Vincent Brooks came as the South’s defense minister indicated that the North’s missile had the potential to reach Hawaii.
“Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war,” Brooks said, referring to the 1953 cease-fire that halted but never officially ended the Korean War. “As this alliance missile live-fire shows, we are able to change our choice when so ordered by our alliance national leaders.
“It would be a grave mistake for anyone to believe anything to the contrary.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in asked Trump on Tuesday night to endorse the joint exercise, arguing that the allies needed to respond to the North’s provocation with “more than statements,” Moon’s office said.
The South Korean military said the missiles, which had a range of about 185 miles, had been fired to test their ability to launch “a precision strike at the enemy leadership” in case of war. It did not say how far the missiles had traveled.
Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said Wednesday that Japan and the United States had agreed to take “specific actions to improve our defense systems and our ability to deter North Korea.”
Suga did not say what those actions were, but a spokesman for the Defense Ministry said the government was considering buying ballistic missile defense systems from the United States.
At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called Pyongyang’s missile launch “a clear and sharp military escalation.” She said that while the U.S. is not seeking a military confrontation, military options are indeed on the table.
“Their actions are quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution,” she said.
Stepping up pressure on China, Haley warned Beijing that it risks its trade relationship with the United States if its business dealings with North Korea violate U.N. sanctions.
Haley said that “the world has become a more dangerous place” and that China has a key role in promoting peace.
“If we act together, we can still prevent a catastrophe,” Haley said. “We can rid the world of a great threat. If we fail to act in a serious way, there will be a different response.”
Haley said the United States doesn’t seek conflict but is prepared to use its “considerable military forces” to defend itself and its allies “if we must.”
But she said the Trump administration prefers “not to go in that direction” but would rather use its “great capabilities in the area of trade” to address “those who threaten us and … those who supply the threats.”
China is responsible for 90 percent of trade with North Korea, and Haley said she had a long conversation Wednesday morning with Trump about U.S. clout when it comes to trade.
China’s trade with the North grew 37.4 percent during the first three months of the year, compared with the same period in 2016, Chinese trade data released in April showed. China said the trade grew even as it stopped buying North Korean coal.
Until recently, American officials had been describing China as a partner in the strategy to prevent North Korea from developing the ability to strike the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons. But Trump has expressed growing irritation at Beijing’s reluctance to tighten the screws on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.
“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter,” Trump said in one of the tweets on Wednesday. “So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try!”
China’s U.N. ambassador, Liu Jieyi, made no mention of U.S.-China trade during the Security Council meeting, nor did he respond to Haley’s remarks.
Instead, he strongly urged North Korea to stop “any rhetoric and action that might further exacerbate the tension of the Korean Peninsula.”
“We call on all parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid provocative actions and belligerent rhetoric, demonstrate the will for unconditional dialogue and work actively together to defuse the tension,” Liu said. “China is firmly opposed to chaos and confrontation on the peninsula. Military means must not be an option in this regard.”
Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov echoed the call for “restraint rather than provocation and warmongering.” He stressed that “any attempts to justify a military solution are inadmissible” and will lead “to unpredictable consequences for the region.”
“Attempts to economically strangle North Korea are equally unacceptable as millions of people are in great humanitarian need,” Safronkov said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “firmly determined and committed” to test an ICBM that can reach the U.S. mainland within the year, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday. It said the ICBM launched on Tuesday was capable of carrying a newly developed, large-sized nuclear warhead.
North Korean state media described Kim as “feasting his eyes” on the ICBM before Tuesday’s launch.
“With a broad smile on his face,” Kim urged his scientists to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees,” it said, an apparent reference to the continuing stream of nuclear and missile tests Kim has ordered since taking power in late 2011. Information for this article was contributed by Foster Klug, Hyung-jin Kim, Geir Moulson, Edith M. Lederer, Josh Lederman, Robert Burns, Julie Pace and Vivian Salama of The Associated Press; by Choe Sang-Hun, Rick Gladstone, Motoko Rich and Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York
Times; and by Nick Wadhams, Kanga Kong, Seyoon Kim, Shinhye Kang, Chelsea Mes, Kambiz Foroohar, Adam Haigh, Jason Scott, Keith Zhai and Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg News.