U.S. warns N. Korea anew
President, vice president deliver warnings to Pyongyang a day after failed missile test
PANMUNJOM, South Korea — The White House displayed a tough and unyielding approach to North Korea and its nuclear ambitions Monday, with President Donald Trump warning that Kim Jong Un has “gotta behave” after Vice President Mike Pence sternly advised Mr. Kim not to test America’s resolve and military power.
Also on Monday, South Korea announced it would press ahead with the “swift deployment” of an American missile defense system despite relentless and vociferous Chinese opposition.
Mr. Trump in Washington, D.C., and Mr. Pence at the tense Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea signaled a forceful U.S. stance on North Korea’s recent actions and threats. But no one was predicting what might come next.
Behind the heated rhetoric, in fact, Mr. Trump’s strategy in the region was seen as somewhat similar to predecessor Barack Obama’s — albeit with the added unpredictability of a new president who has shown he’s willing to use force.
Mr. Pence, inspecting the DMZ, warned Pyongyang that after years of testing the U.S. and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, “the era of strategic patience is over.” Appearing later with South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, the vice president pointed to Mr. Trump’s recent military actions in Syria and Afghanistan as signs that the new administration would not shrink from acting against the
“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve — or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Mr. Pence said at the start of a 10-day trip to Asia.
Mr. Pence’s remarks also came with hope for a diplomatic path. Washington, he said, was looking for security “through peaceable means, through negotiations.”
But there were no apparent signs that the new approach had prompted the regime of Mr. Kim to dial back its belligerency and its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador accused the United States of turning the Korean peninsula into “the world’s biggest hotspot” and creating “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment.”
Kim In Ryong told a news conference Monday that U.S.South Korean military exercises being staged now are the largest-ever “aggressive war drill.” He said North Korea’s measures to bolster its nuclear forces are self-defensive “to cope with the U.S. vicious nuclear threat and blackmail,” and he said his country “is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”
Meanwhile, as Mr. Pence warned North Korea not to test U.S. resolve, Mr. Hwang vowed to press ahead with the “swift deployment” of that system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD.
America’s implied threat of force isn’t new, nor is hope for engagement. Previous presidents have repeatedly left all options on the table while trying to enlist China’s help to pressure North Korea to pursue diplomatic solutions. The Trump administration has labeled this policy “maximum pressure and engagement,” although officials acknowledge there is no current engagement with Pyongyang.
North Korea snubbed senior Chinese diplomats this month as tensions mounted with the U.S., according to people familiar with the situation, raising questions about the influence Beijing’s leaders have over Mr. Kim.
Until recently, it has been Mr. Trump’s confrontational tone that has drawn attention rather than his action. But then he ordered the unilateral missile strike against Syria, even after dismissing talk of deeper U.S. involvement in that nation’s civil war.
Analysts questioned whether the United States could duplicate its Syria and Afghanistan strikes against North Korea, which has spent decades hardening its nuclear and missile programs against attack.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking to reporters Monday evening, said he hopes “there will be no unilateral actions like those we saw recently in Syria and that the U.S. will follow the line that President Trump repeatedly voiced during the election campaign.”
And according to Dmitry Kiselyov, the Kremlin’s top TV mouthpiece, Mr. Trump is “more dangerous” than his North Korean counterpart. “Trump is more impulsive and unpredictable than Kim Jong Un,” he told viewers of his prime-time Sunday “Vesti Nedelyi” program
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking to a parliamentary session Monday, said: “Needless to say, diplomatic effort is important to maintain peace. But dialogue for the sake of having dialogue is meaningless.”
Mr. Abe also said that Japan’s government is drawing up contingency plans in case a crisis on the Korean Peninsula sends an influx of refugees to Japan.
The White House did not offer a sense of when Mr. Trump’s patience might run out.
“I don’t think that you’re going to see the president drawing red lines in the sand, but I think that the action that he took in Syria shows that, when appropriate, this president will take decisive action,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
North Korea’s latest missile test fizzled over the weekend, but its weapons development has appeared to make steady progress in recent years. The North conducted two nuclear test explosions and 24 ballistic missile tests in 2016, and experts predict it could have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland within a few years.
Mr. Pence said after meeting with South Korea’s acting president that the U.S. and its allies have attempted to “peacefully dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program” for more than two decades. “But at every step of the way, North Korea answered our overtures with willful deception, broken promises and nuclear and missile tests.”
Former President Obama, too, tried to persuade China to use its influence over Pyongyang.
It remains unclear the extent to which China might step up. Mr. Trump and his advisers have pointed to Beijing’s move to restrict coal imports from North Korea as a sign Beijing is listening, and the U.S. says China has turned back some shipments in recent days. But some of those restrictions merely put in place U.N. sanctions passed last year with China’s support — before Mr. Trump took office.
Mr. Trump appeared to reinforce the stern U.S. message at the White House, replying “Gotta behave” when a CNN reporter asked what message he had for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
China also made a plea for a return to negotiations, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang saying Beijing wants to resume the talks that ended in stalemate in 2009.