‘All op­tions are on the ta­ble’

Pres­i­dent takes more mea­sured step af­ter N. Korea mis­sile test

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Pennington

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­sponse to a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion is more sub­dued af­ter North Korea’s mis­sile test over U.S. ally Ja­pan.

WASH­ING­TON — Af­ter Py­ongyang’s mis­sile test over U.S. ally Ja­pan, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump of­fered a sub­dued re­sponse Tues­day, pulling back from his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cent sug­ges­tions of a di­a­logue with the com­mu­nist coun­try but also avoid­ing a re­peat of his bom­bas­tic warn­ings ear­lier this month of a po­ten­tial mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion.

In­stead, Trump’s writ­ten state­ment re­it­er­at­ing that all U.S. op­tions are be­ing con­sid­ered seemed to in­di­cate an ad­min­is­tra­tion cau­tiously search­ing for an ef­fec­tive pol­icy, even as the North’s test risked en­dan­ger­ing Ja­panese civil­ians. Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies called an emer­gency U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing Tues­day but looked short on new ideas for stop­ping the nu­clear and mis­sile ad­vances that are in­creas­ingly putting the U.S. main­land within range.

“Threat­en­ing and desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tions only in­crease the North Korean regime’s iso­la­tion in the re­gion and among all na­tions of the world,” Trump said af­ter the North’s mis­sile soared al­most 1,700 miles and into the Pa­cific Ocean, trig­ger­ing alert warn­ings in north­ern Ja­pan and shud­ders through­out North­east Asia. “All op­tions are on the ta­ble.”

The tone was far more mod­er­ate than Trump’s ear­lier lan­guage when he spoke of unleashing “fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen be­fore” if North Korea kept threat­en­ing the United States.

If Tues­day’s state­ment seemed re­strained for Trump, it marked a tough­en­ing of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s most re­cent tone.

A se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said the re­strained nature of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cent re­sponses was in­ten­tional, re­flect­ing an ef­fort by new White House chief of staff John Kelly to pre­vent a re­peat of the rhetor­i­cal es­ca­la­tion that oc­curred ear­lier this month.

Three weeks ago, when North Korea re­sponded to Trump’s “fire and fury” warn­ing by threat­en­ing to launch mis­siles near the U.S. Pa­cific ter­ri­tory of Guam, Trump tweeted that an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to the stand­off was “locked and loaded.”

Ex­perts warned that the rapid-fire es­ca­la­tion had raised the dan­ger of a mis­cal­cu­la­tion among of­fi­cials in the nu­clear-armed coun­tries.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s more cau­tious ap­proach in re­cent days re­flects an ef­fort to pre­serve mod­est signs of progress with North Korea that had led Trump and his top di­plo­mat to hint at the pos­si­bil­ity of di­rect talks, said the of­fi­cial, who wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the de­lib­er­a­tions pub­licly and re­quested anonymity.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “start­ing to re­spect us,” Trump said at a cam­paign rally in Phoenix last week, adding that “maybe, prob­a­bly not, but maybe some­thing pos­i­tive can come about.”

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son cred­ited Kim’s gov­ern­ment with demon­strat­ing “some level of re­straint that we have not seen” by not con­duct­ing a mis­sile test for al­most a month, ex­press­ing hope it might be the “sig­nal that we have been look­ing for,” lead­ing to a di­a­logue.

Even that sug­ges­tion was a surprising one for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

On his first trip to Asia, Tiller­son said North Korea must first aban­don its “weapons of mass de­struc­tion” for talks to oc­cur. But he later floated the idea that the North merely had to halt its nu­clear and mis­sile tests. The North has re­jected both de­mands, say­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions hinge on the U.S. drop­ping its “hos­tile pol­icy.”

The op­ti­mism gen­er­ated by North Korea’s tem­po­rary lull in mis­sile ac­tiv­ity ended Fri­day, when it fired three short-range pro­jec­tiles into the sea. It then raised the ante three days later by fir­ing over Ja­pan’s ter­ri­tory, break­ing with its usual prac­tice of launch­ing over open seas where there’s no risk that a mis­fire would land in an­other coun­try or send de­bris fall­ing on pop­u­lated ar­eas.

The Pen­tagon said it was an in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­sile that landed 500 nau­ti­cal miles east of Ja­pan.

But for Trump’s ear­lier bom­bast, his Tues­day state­ment wouldn’t have been par­tic­u­larly surprising. Demo­crat and Repub­li­can pres­i­dents have rou­tinely of­fered the “all op­tions on the ta­ble” ter­mi­nol­ogy, even though a pre-emp­tive U.S. mil­i­tary strike is un­likely.

The North said Kim at­tended Tues­day’s launch.

North Korea has the world’s largest stand­ing army and a mas­sive con­ven­tional weapons ar­se­nal that can tar­get the cap­i­tal of South Korea and its met­ro­pol­i­tan area of about 25 mil­lion peo­ple. Amer­i­can of­fi­cials have long as­sessed that mass ca­su­al­ties would likely re­sult. But while U.S. of­fi­cials had been in­clined to over­look Fri­day’s launches, the launch Tues­day was harder to ig­nore.

Fri­day’s rocket tests rep­re­sented a typ­i­cal North Korean re­sponse to an­nual U.S.-South Korean mil­i­tary drills that Py­ongyang claims are re­hearsals for in­va­sion. This year’s war games started last week and end Thurs­day.

Tues­day’s launch was al­to­gether more provoca­tive. It was only the third time North Korea has fired a mis­sile over Ja­pan. The pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions in 1998 and 2009 used rock­ets pur­port­edly for space ex­plo­ration. This time, the North tested a bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­signed for mil­i­tary strikes and be­lieved ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a nu­clear war­head.

Trump and Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe of Ja­pan con­ferred by tele­phone, agree­ing that North Korea poses “a grave and grow­ing di­rect threat,” the White House said. They vowed to in­crease pres­sure on the North.

“Ja­pan’s and the U.S. po­si­tions are to­tally at one,” Abe added in a state­ment, say­ing Trump ex­pressed his “strong com­mit­ment” to de­fend Ja­pan.

KAZUHIRO NOGI/GETTY-AFP

Tokyo keeps track of Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s views af­ter North Korea’s launch Tues­day.

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