En­tire Se­nate to get brief­ing at White House on N. Korea

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR

Pres­i­dent Trump’s top se­cu­rity aides will host an un­usual White House brief­ing on North Korea for the en­tire U.S. Se­nate on Wed­nes­day amid ris­ing ten­sions on the Korean Penin­sula and pres­sure on Washington to or­ga­nize an ef­fec­tive re­sponse to Py­ongyang’s in­creas­ingly brazen mil­i­tary provo­ca­tions and nu­clear tests.

While North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram has been a se­cu­rity headache for the U.S. and its al­lies for decades, the gath­er­ing Wed­nes­day co­in­cides with a con­certed Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion push to change the cal­cu­lus of U.S. strat­egy amid grow­ing con­cern as North Korea rushes to de­velop an arse­nal of nu­clear-tipped bal­lis­tic mis­siles that could threaten al­lies such as South Korea and Japan and reach the Amer­i­can home­land.

With the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing its mis­sile and nu­clear tests in re­cent years, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence said on a visit to the region last week that, un­der Mr. Trump, the “era of strate­gic pa­tience” — a ref­er­ence to Washington’s long-held pol­icy of try­ing to pres­sure Py­ongyang through sanc­tions and diplo­macy — “is over.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has backed the as­ser­tion by shift­ing more U.S. mil­i­tary as­sets, in­clud­ing the USS Carl Vin­son air­craft car­rier bat­tle group, to­ward the Korean Penin­sula. The USS Michi­gan sub­ma­rine docked Tues­day in South Korea just as the North car­ried out ma­jor live-fire ex­er­cises to mark the an­niver­sary of the foun­da­tion of the iso­lated na­tion’s mil­i­tary.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tiller­son will help brief se­na­tors in a se­cure room of the White House on Wed­nes­day and is slated to chair a special min­is­te­rial meet­ing of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on the North Korea cri­sis on Fri­day.

The White House meet­ing rep­re­sents the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­tempt to drum up sup­port for Mr. Trump’s de­sire for a clear res­o­lu­tion to the North Korean threat, although it is not clear if any ma­jor pol­icy rev­e­la­tions are planned.

The briefers will in­clude Mr. Tiller­son, De­fense Secretary James Mat­tis, Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Daniel Coats and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair­man Gen. Joseph F. Dun­ford.

Such rare pri­vate brief­ings of the whole Se­nate by four Cab­i­net of­fi­cials are nor­mally held in a se­cure au­di­to­rium on Capi­tol Hill, not at the White House. That has sparked spec­u­la­tion that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is test­ing the ap­petite on Capi­tol Hill for the po­ten­tial use of pre­emp­tive airstrikes against North Korea.

Se­nior U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials told NBC News last week that the U.S. is pre­pared to launch such strikes if of­fi­cials be­come con­vinced that Py­ongyang is about to carry out an­other nu­clear test. North Korea has con­ducted five suc­cess­ful tests since 2006, and there are signs that it is pre­par­ing the ground for a sixth.

Mr. Trump’s state­ments on Twitter and in re­cent in­ter­views on the North Korea cri­sis have con­trib­uted to the mount­ing sense that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is push­ing to change the sta­tus quo.

“North Korea is look­ing for trou­ble,” the pres­i­dent tweeted this month. “If China de­cides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the prob­lem with­out them!”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer sought to cool some of the talk over im­pend­ing U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tion. He sug­gested last week that Mr. Trump was con­sid­er­ing force against North Korea — per­haps with­out ex­plicit con­gres­sional ap­proval — but said Tues­day that the Se­nate meet­ing will be more broadly fo­cused.

He said the gath­er­ing was con­ceived and will be led by Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, who will be “just uti­liz­ing our space” at the White House.

“We’re not there to talk strat­egy,” Mr. Spicer said, although he added that “Chair­man Dun­ford will lay out some of the mil­i­tary ac­tions and the way that they see the lay of the land.”

In­ten­si­fy­ing the fo­cus

It’s un­clear whether Mr. Trump will be par­tic­i­pat­ing, but there were signs Tues­day that the pres­i­dent’s fo­cus on North Korea would in­ten­sify in the com­ing weeks to the point that he has lit­tle time to host for­eign lead­ers.

The pres­i­dent of the Czech Re­pub­lic, Milos Ze­man, has post­poned a visit he was hop­ing to make to the White House be­fore the end of the month. Czech Am­bas­sador Hynek Kmon­icek told a Czech pub­lic tele­vi­sion show Tues­day that the trip was put off be­cause “North Korean cri­sis fully dom­i­nates the plan­ning of Pres­i­dent Trump’s sched­ule.”

Some for­eign pol­icy an­a­lysts have ar­gued that Mr. Trump’s fo­cus on North Korea fits with his wider de­sire to re­shape the over­all U.S. re­la­tion­ship with China, North Korea’s main ally. Bei­jing has frus­trated sev­eral U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions by fail­ing to take a tough enough hand against North Korea, for fear of the so­cial and strate­gic con­se­quences of the col­lapse of the Kim regime.

Hawk­ish Repub­li­can se­na­tors are us­ing the White House meet­ing to push Bei­jing to fall in with Mr. Trump’s tougher line — some­thing Mr. Trump says is al­ready hap­pen­ing. China of­fered back­ing for some of the eco­nomic sanc­tions that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pur­sued against North Korea as pun­ish­ment for nu­clear tests that Py­ongyang car­ried out last year.

In Fe­bru­ary, China an­nounced that it was re­duc­ing crit­i­cal North Korean coal im­ports through the end of this year, but an­a­lysts said the move was largely sym­bolic.

Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, sug­gested Tues­day that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion should be far more ag­gres­sive in pres­sur­ing the Chi­nese to dis­suade North Korea from car­ry­ing out fur­ther mis­sile and nu­clear tests.

“For years, the United States has looked at China, North Korea’s longterm pa­tron and sole strate­gic ally, to bring the regime to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble and achieve progress to­ward a de­nu­cle­arized Korean Penin­sula,” Mr. McCain said at a hear­ing. “But China has re­peat­edly re­fused to ex­er­cise that in­flu­ence.”

Mr. McCain said he wel­comes the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­tin­u­a­tion of the Obama-era pol­icy of reach­ing out to China on North Korea. “But,” he said, “as these discussions con­tinue, the United States should be clear that while we earnestly seek China’s co­op­er­a­tion … we do not seek [it] at the ex­pense of our vi­tal in­ter­ests.”

Vic­tor Cha, a se­nior ad­viser at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, told the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee hear­ing that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is wise to be shift­ing Washington’s cal­cu­lus away from the era of “strate­gic pa­tience.”

“Be­tween 1994 and 2008, North Korea did 16 bal­lis­tic mis­sile tests and one nu­clear test,” said Mr. Cha. “Since Jan­uary of 2009, they have done 71 mis­sile tests, in­clud­ing four nu­clear tests.

“The leader of North Korea has made no ef­fort to have dia­logue with any other coun­try in the region, not just the United States, but that in­cludes China, South Korea, Rus­sia,” he said. He has “ab­so­lutely no in­ter­est in talking.”

“There is noth­ing that I see that sug­gests North Korea is go­ing to slow down the pace of its test­ing,” said Mr. Cha, assert­ing that China is still not do­ing enough to re­solve the cri­sis.

“China still sub­si­dizes, even if they cut coal, they still sub­si­dize 85 per­cent of North Korea’s ex­ter­nal trade,” he said. “They are not will­ing to re­ally put the sort of pres­sure that will im­pose eco­nomic costs on North Korea for go­ing down this path.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

ALERT: U.S. de­fense forces learned from South Korea that the North held ma­jor live-fire drills to mark the an­niver­sary of the found­ing of its mil­i­tary.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The nu­clear-pow­ered sub­ma­rine USS Michi­gan joined the U.S. air­craft car­rier USS Carl Vin­son on Tues­day as con­cern rose in South Korea about ten­sions with the North.

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