White House talks tough about the test launch

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White House talks tough about the test launch

The new U.S. administration will be “sending another signal very soon” to North Korea following its latest missile launch, according to President Donald Trump’s policy adviser on Sunday, which could involve a show of military might.

Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser, said in an interview with CBS that the U.S. president and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s joint response to Pyongyang’s missile launch on Sunday was “a show of strength.”

He continued, “Saying we stand with our ally, having the two men appear on camera worldwide to all of planet Earth, was a statement that will be understood very well by North Korea.”

Miller added that “when we begin a great rebuilding of the armed forces of the United States” the Trump administration would show “unquestioned military strength beyond anything anyone can imagine.”

North Korea launched a ballistic missile into the East Sea as President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Abe met at the real estate mogul’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday.

During a brief joint press appearance, Abe called the missile launch “absolutely intolerable” and demanded Pyongyang comply with UN Security Council resolutions.

Trump said in a short statement, “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.” He did not elaborate, nor did he refer to either of the Koreas in his surprisingly restrained response.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a New Year address last month said that his regime was in the final stages of test launching an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, which would bring Pyongyang closer to being able to strike U.S. mainland.

At that time, President-elect Trump wrote on Twitter: “It won’t happen!”

But Miller said on a different appearance on Fox News Sunday that Trump sent a “powerful and unmistakable signal to North Korea and the entire world as he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the prime minister of Japan.”

Trump’s adviser elaborated that the message is “that we are going to reinforce and strengthen our vital alliances in the Pacific region as part of our strategy to deter and prevent the increasing hostility that we have seen in recent years from the North Korean regime.”

He said that because of the situation in countries like North Korea, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the president is “committed to a fundamental rebuilding of the armed forces of the United States.”

The Pentagon was reported last week to have submitted a plan to Congress to increase the defense budget by more than $30 billion to acquire new jet fighters, armored vehicles, attack helicopters and surveillance drones and train soldiers.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said ahead of his confirmation as top U.S. diplomat that he will work on “a new approach” to proactively address the threat North Korea poses to the region and international community, keeping all options on the table, including the threat of military force as well as diplomacy.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado on Sunday issued a statement on Pyongyang’s latest missile test, urging the Trump administration “to immediately pursue a series of tough measures, to include additional sanctions designations and show-of-force military exercises with our allies in the region, to send a message to Kim Jong-un that we remain committed to deterring the North Korean threat.”

Gardner, the chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, authored the North Korea Sanctions Policy and Enhancement Act enacted last year through which Washington imposed landmark unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang.

He said that the latest missile test is an example of why “U.S. policy toward North Korea should never be ‘strategic patience,’ as it was during the Obama administration.”

On Friday, Gardner sent a letter to Trump to urge his administration to take a “determined and resolute U.S. policy toward North Korea.”

In the letter, Gardner urged the Trump administration to fully enforce existing U.S. and multilateral sanctions regarding North Korea and impose additional sanctions as necessary, highlight the regime’s illicit nuclear and ballistic weapons programs, human rights abuses and malicious cyber activities.

He also urged Trump to “employ all diplomatic tools to pressure” Beijing to fully enforce its North Korea sanctions commitments and encouraged secondary sanctions on any China-based entities that are found to be in violation of U.S. and UN measures.

Gardner called upon Trump to enhance Washington’s “defense and deterrence posture in East Asia,” especially urging the placement of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, system in South Korea.

“We must not allow China’s unprecedented pressure campaign against the ROK (Republic of Korea) to cancel the Thaad deployment succeed,” he wrote.

Beijing has strongly protested Seoul and Washington’s decision to deploy the antiballistic missile system to Korea, saying it goes against its national strategic interests.

The senator also commended Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ first overseas trip to Seoul and Tokyo earlier this month, which he said “showed an unwavering U.S. commitment to our alliances and our seriousness to deter Pyongyang.”

In response to North Korea’s latest provocation, Seoul, Washington and Tokyo requested the New York-based UN Security Council to convene an emergency meeting, which was expected to be held Monday.

The UN Security Council issued a series of strong statements condemning Pyongyang’s fourth and fifth nuclear tests as well as its over 20 ballistic missile launches last year.

Amid calls within the Trump administration to take a tougher stance toward North Korea, there has been growing concern in Seoul that Washington may conduct a pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang.

“There is more interest growing on this than any time before, especially within the U.S. Congress and among scholars,” said South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se said Monday at the National Assembly, as he referred to the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. “And some within the [U.S.] administration are expected to review or analyze this [possibility].”

The foreign minister responded to a question by a lawmaker at a meeting of the parliamentary foreign affair’s committee on whether there is a higher chance of a pre-emptive attack on the North from the new Trump government compared to the Barack Obama administration. Yun said there is more discussion of a pre-emptive strike than before because “the level of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat is more accelerated than ever before.”

Yun continued, “Because the threat felt by the U.S. mainland is becoming general, there is talk that all options will be considered even in hearings of high-ranking U.S. administration officials.”

This is the first time Yun has spoken on his position on a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.

Seoul officials have pointed out that because of Trump’s unpredictability, his administration may come up with previously unexpected measures to pressure North Korea. This could include a higher chance of a pre-emptive strike on the North.

Defense Secretary Mattis said that nothing should be taken “off the table,” referring to a possible pre-emptive strike on North Korea, during his confirmation hearing last month.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, asked during a hearing on North Korea at the end of last month whether Washington needs to prepare for a pre-emptive attack on Pyongyang. However, Yun said that pre-emptive attacks were not discussed during Mattis’ visit to Korea nor his phone conversation last week with State Secretary Tillerson.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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