Trump stead­fast on N. Korea

Now no time to dial back tone, he says

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

BED­MIN­STER, N.J. — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­fused to back down Thurs­day from his threat to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea if that na­tion en­dan­gers the United States, and in the face of bi­par­ti­san crit­i­cism, said that per­haps he was not harsh enough.

“Frankly, the peo­ple who were ques­tion­ing that state­ment, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,” he told re­porters. “They’ve been do­ing this to our coun­try for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that some­body stuck up for the peo­ple of this coun­try and for the peo­ple of other coun­tries. So if any­thing, maybe that state­ment wasn’t tough enough.”

Trump spoke at his golf club in Bed­min­ster, where he is spend­ing much of the month on a work­ing va­ca­tion. He met Thurs­day with Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his

na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, and other aides even as ten­sion with North Korea con­tin­ued to crackle with nu­clear-edged bom­bast. While his ad­vis­ers have tried to mod­u­late his orig­i­nal com­ment, made Tues­day in re­sponse to North Korean threats, Trump sug­gested that he had no rea­son to back off from it.

“We’re backed by 100 per­cent by our mil­i­tary,” he said. “We’re backed by ev­ery­body. And we’re backed by many other lead­ers.”

Asked what would be tougher than fire and fury, Trump said, “Well, you’ll see, you’ll see.”

But he de­clined to ex­plic­itly say he was con­sid­er­ing a pre-emp­tive mil­i­tary strike. “We don’t talk about that,” he said. “I never do.”

He added: “But I can tell you that what they’ve been do­ing and what they’ve been get­ting away with is a tragedy. And it can’t be al­lowed.”

North Korea has re­acted with threats of its own, warn­ing that it might launch, as early as this month, a mis­sile to­ward the Pa­cific is­land of Guam, which is a U.S. ter­ri­tory, adding that it was ca­pa­ble of start­ing a nu­clear war that might reach the con­ti­nen­tal United States. North Korea re­cently tested in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles for the first time and has been re­ported to be mak­ing progress to­ward equip­ping them with nu­clear war­heads.

South Korea and Ja­pan warned North Korea that it would face a strong re­sponse if it car­ried through with a threat to launch a mis­sile to­ward Guam.

De­fense Min­is­ter It­sunori On­odera said it would be le­gal for Ja­pan to in­ter­cept a mis­sile aimed at Guam. North Korea’s threats to strike around Guam pose a se­ri­ous chal­lenge, a spokesman at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told re­porters Thurs­day.

“We give a strict warn­ing,” the spokesman said. “If North Korea com­mits provo­ca­tions de­spite our stern warn­ing, it will face a strong re­sponse from South Korea’s mil­i­tary and the U.S.-South Korea al­liance.”

Later Thurs­day, South Korea’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil took a softer tone, say­ing the door for di­a­logue re­mained open and it would take all pos­si­ble steps to ease tensions.

For all the bel­li­cose words, Trump said Thurs­day that he was open to ne­go­ti­a­tions, as Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son urged North Korea to en­gage in talks. But the pres­i­dent, flanked by Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, ex­pressed skep­ti­cism that they would lead to a rea­son­able out­come, given the ex­pe­ri­ences of his pre­de­ces­sors, Bill Clin­ton, Ge­orge W. Bush and Barack Obama, none of whom were able to re­solve the issue through ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“Sure, we’ll al­ways con­sider ne­go­ti­a­tions,” Trump said. “But they’ve been ne­go­ti­at­ing now for 25 years. Look at Clin­ton. He folded on the ne­go­ti­a­tions. He was weak and in­ef­fec­tive. You look what hap­pened with Bush, you look what hap­pened with Obama. Obama, he didn’t even want to talk about it. But I talk. It’s about time. Some­body has to do it. Some­body has to do it.”

CARTER WARN­ING

Trump’s com­ments de­fied crit­ics at home and abroad who have said his choice of words was need­lessly bom­bas­tic and po­ten­tially reck­less.

“These state­ments are ir­re­spon­si­ble and dan­ger­ous, and also sense­lessly pro­vide a boon to do­mes­tic North Korean pro­pa­ganda which has long sought to por­tray the United States as a threat to their peo­ple,” more than 60 House Democrats said in a let­ter Thurs­day ad­dressed to Tiller­son, ask­ing him to re­strain the pres­i­dent.

Former Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter, who has vis­ited North Korea three times as a pri­vate cit­i­zen, added his voice to the crit­i­cism.

“In ad­di­tion to re­strain­ing the war­like rhetoric, our lead­ers need to en­cour­age talks be­tween North Korea and other coun­tries, es­pe­cially China and Rus­sia,” he said in a state­ment. “The re­cent U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil unan­i­mous vote for new sanc­tions sug­gests that these coun­tries could help. In all cases, a nu­clear ex­change must be avoided.” He added that all par­ties must as­sure the North Kore­ans that they will forgo “any mil­i­tary ac­tion against them if North Korea re­mains peace­ful.”

Mil­i­tary an­a­lysts said it was un­usual for Py­ongyang to give such a pre­cise tar­get for a mil­i­tary ac­tion, as it did with its threat to strike near Guam. Still, there were no signs that North Korea was se­ri­ously mo­bi­liz­ing its pop­u­la­tion for war, such as by pulling work­ers from fac­to­ries or putting the army on for­mal alert.

“There’s a lot of theater to this whole thing,” said Bob Car­lin, former North­east Asia chief for the State Depart­ment’s in­tel­li­gence arm.

Sim­i­larly, the U.S. mil­i­tary gave no indi­ca­tions that it per­ceived a se­ri­ously es­ca­lat­ing threat from Py­ongyang, such as mov­ing to evac­u­ate Amer­i­can per­son­nel or their fam­i­lies from Guam, where there are 7,000 U.S. troops, or South Korea, where there are 28,000.

And U.S. of­fi­cials in­sisted that no sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of troops, ships, air­craft or other as­sets were be­ing di­rected to the re­gion, be­yond any that had been pre­vi­ously sched­uled. The of­fi­cials weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss mil­i­tary plan­ning pub­licly and re­quested anonymity.

Trump said he would soon an­nounce a re­quest for a bud­get in­crease of “bil­lions of dol­lars” for anti-mis­sile sys­tems.

But as it is, the U.S. has a ro­bust mil­i­tary pres­ence in the re­gion, in­clud­ing six B-1 bombers in Guam and Air Force fighter jet units in South Korea, plus other as­sets across the Pa­cific Ocean and in the skies above. Wash­ing­ton’s vast mil­i­tary op­tions range from noth­ing to a ful­lon con­ven­tional as­sault by air, sea and ground forces. Any or­der by the pres­i­dent could be ex­e­cuted quickly.

WORLD’S RE­AC­TION

Cur­rent and former U.S. of­fi­cials said if war did come, the U.S. and its al­lies would likely hit hard and fast, us­ing airstrikes, drone op­er­a­tions and cy­ber­at­tacks aimed at mil­i­tary bases, air bases, mis­sile sites, ar­tillery, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, com­mand and con­trol head­quar­ters, and in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing and sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Key threats would be North Korea’s small but ca­pa­ble navy, in­clud­ing its sub­marines that can move qui­etly and at­tack. Py­ongyang also has sig­nif­i­cant cy­ber abil­i­ties, al­though not as so­phis­ti­cated as Amer­ica’s. The North has also been pre­par­ing for ground war for decades and would be a for­mi­da­ble force along the bor­der.

“Do I have mil­i­tary op­tions? Of course I do. That’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity,” De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis said Wed­nes­day. But he said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion wants “to use diplo­macy.”

Mat­tis re­it­er­ated that goal Thurs­day, say­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is work­ing with its al­lies on a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to the cri­sis.

The tragedy of war is well known, he said, and “it doesn’t need an­other char­ac­ter­i­za­tion be­yond the fact that it would be cat­a­strophic.”

He also pointed out that the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil unan­i­mously voted last week to char­ac­ter­ize North Korea’s state­ments as a “threat to the world’s com­mu­nity.”

He asked, “How of­ten do you see France, China, Rus­sia, the U.S. vot­ing unan­i­mously on any issue?”

Trump has tried to per­suade China to do more to pres­sure North Korea to curb its weapons de­vel­op­ment, only to be dis­ap­pointed that Bei­jing has not fol­lowed through as strongly as he would like.

Many an­a­lysts have sug­gested that his “fire and fury” lan­guage was meant as a sig­nal to China as much as North Korea, mak­ing the point that the Chi­nese need to step up to avoid a con­fla­gra­tion in their own re­gion.

In his com­ments to re­porters Thurs­day, Trump again sug­gested that he would bar­gain with China by back­ing down from his planned trade war if Bei­jing did more to re­solve the North Korea im­passe.

“I think China can do a lot more, yes,” he said. “And I think China will do a lot more. Look, we have trade with China. We lose hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars a year on trade with China. They know how I feel. It’s not go­ing to con­tinue like that. But if China helps us, I feel a lot dif­fer­ently to­ward trade, a lot dif­fer­ently to­ward trade.”

Sep­a­rately Thurs­day, the Euro­pean Union said it has slapped sanc­tions on nine North Kore­ans and four en­ti­ties in­clud­ing the sta­te­owned For­eign Trade Bank, in ad­di­tion to those al­ready on its sanc­tions list.

In a state­ment, it said the as­set freezes and travel bans were added to the EU’s North Korea sanc­tion list to get the bloc into line with a new U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion.

The EU move means 62 peo­ple and 50 en­ti­ties, such as com­pa­nies, or­ga­ni­za­tions or banks, are now un­der sanc­tions in line with the U.N. list. The EU has au­tonomously slapped re­stric­tive mea­sures on a fur­ther 41 peo­ple and seven en­ti­ties.

U.S. ally Kuwait, mean­while, said it will con­tinue to grant visas to North Korean la­bor­ers whose wages re­port­edly aid Py­ongyang in evad­ing in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions, its gov­ern­ment said Thurs­day, ahead of its ruler’s trip to Wash­ing­ton to meet Trump.

In a state­ment re­spond­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press story, Kuwait also said it never stopped is­su­ing work visas for North Kore­ans, re­fut­ing a State Depart­ment hu­man traf­fick­ing re­port re­leased in June that ap­plauded the Mideast na­tion for tak­ing steps to limit their pres­ence.

Kuwait’s re­sponse comes as the U.S. tries to per­suade Per­sian Gulf na­tions to cut back on us­ing thousands of North Korean work­ers on ma­jor con­struc­tion projects and to North Korean gov­ern­ment-run restau­rants in the re­gion. Ex­perts and an­a­lysts say the money earned from those en­ter­prises helps Py­ongyang buy lux­ury goods and build its mis­siles.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Peter Baker of The New York Times; by Jonathan Lemire, Josh Lederman, Lolita C. Bal­dor, Eric Tal­madge and staff mem­bers of The As­so­ci­ated Press; and by Is­abel Reynolds and Hooyeon Kim of Bloomberg News.

AP/AHN YOUNG-JOON

A man watches a TV screen show­ing a lo­cal news pro­gram re­port­ing on North Korea’s threats to strike Guam with bal­lis­tic mis­siles Thurs­day at the Seoul Train Sta­tion in Seoul, South Korea.

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