Trump warns ‘all op­tions’ open af­ter NK launch

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW PENNINGTON

WASH­ING­TON — Af­ter Py­ongyang’s highly provoca­tive mis­sile test over close Amer­i­can ally Ja­pan, Trump of­fered a sur­pris­ingly 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 terse, writ­ten state­ment re­it­er­at­ing that all U.S. op­tions are be­ing con­sid­ered pointed to 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 for later 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 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 col­or­ful lan­guage ear­lier this month, 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 U.S. There were no in­di­ca­tions Trump had any im­mi­nent in­ten­tion to make good on his threat to strike North Korea.

But such has been the speed of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s zigs and zags on North Korea pol­icy. If Tues­day’s state­ment seemed un­usu­ally re­strained for Trump, it ac­tu­ally 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. But with Trump’s fo­cus di­verted to flood-rav­aged Texas, it was un­clear whether he might ul­ti­mately speak or tweet about the launch in greater de­tail.

Three weeks ago, when North Korea re­sponded to Trump’s “fire and fury” warn­ing by threat­en­ing to launch mul­ti­ple 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 the nu­clear-armed pow­ers.

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 com­pletely re­jected both de­mands, say­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions hinge on the U.S. drop­ping its “hos­tile pol­icy.”

In any case, the op­ti­mism gen­er­ated by North Korea’s tem­po­rary lull in mis­sile ac­tiv­ity ended last Fri­day, when it fired three short-range pro­jec­tiles into the sea. It then raised the ante three days later by fir­ing di­rectly 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.

Kim on Tues­day ex­pressed great sat­is­fac­tion with the launch and called for more bal­lis­tic mis­sile launches into the Pa­cific, the Korean Cen­tral News Agency re­ported. Kim called it a “mean­ing­ful pre­lude” to con­tain­ing Guam.

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 highly un­likely.

North Korea has the world’s largest stand­ing army and a mas­sive con­ven­tional weapons ar­se­nal that can eas­ily 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 early Tues­day in North Korea 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 un­am­bigu­ously tested a bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­signed for mil­i­tary strikes and be­lieved ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a nu­clear war­head.

Within min­utes, cell­phones alerted res­i­dents on the north­ern Ja­panese is­land of Hokkaido, and loud alarms and emails in­structed them to stay in­doors. Speak­ers broad­cast an alert say­ing “mis­sile is pass­ing, mis­sile is pass­ing.”

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.

Dur­ing a closed-door Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ses­sion later Tues­day, Nikki Ha­ley, Trump’s U.N. en­voy, was hop­ing veto-wield­ing mem­bers China and Rus- sia would co­op­er­ate. But Ha­ley didn’t spec­ify what ac­tion the U.S. its al­lies sought.

“No coun­try should have mis­siles fly­ing over them like those 130 mil­lion peo­ple in Ja­pan. It’s un­ac­cept­able,” Ha­ley told re­porters. She added, “Some­thing se­ri­ous has to hap­pen.”

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