U.S. rhetoric about North toughensU.S. legislators are openly criticizing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un amid Pyongyang’s most recent provocations and as the Donald Trump administration has made clear it wants a new policy toward the isolated regime.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the North Korean leader a “crazy fat kid” during an interview on MSNBC Wednesday, adding that Kim was more extreme than Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
“We’re not dealing even with someone like Joseph Stalin, who had a certain rationality to his barbarity,” he said.
The Republican from Arizona said that China “is the only one that can control Kim Jong-un,” adding that Beijing could, if it wanted to, “stop North Korea’s economy in a week.” He said that the Chinese “have to understand there’s going to be a penalty to be paid,” imposed by Washington, “if they don’t rein in an individual that can start a world war.”
If China refuses to take action, he said, Washington has “to consider all options,” though he said that it is “not necessarily a world war.”
Rep. Ted Poe, a Republican from Texas, introduced a bill in January that would relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Some 20 acts of terrorism perpetrated by the North are described.
“The United States cannot underestimate the war-prone lunacy of Kim Jong-un,” Poe said in floor remarks on March 21. “He needs a clear message from America to leave us alone and leave our allies alone.” He called North Korea a “warmonger” and said that Washington’s “hopeless appeasement policy” with Pyongyang “has not worked.”
Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida, chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said in a hearing on the same day, “Since 2015, Kim [Jong-un] has tested more missiles than Kim Jong-il and Kim Il Sung combined, while making continued progress towards an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of targeting nearly the entire continental U.S.,” referring to the incumbent leader’s father and grandfather.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), there have been 74 missile launches conducted under the Kim Jong-un regime, which began at the end of 2011, compared to 30 under his father Kim Jong-il’s government, between 1994 and 2011, and 13 under the regime’s founder Kim Il Sung between 1984 and 1994. Three nuclear tests were conducted under Kim Jong-un, compared to two by his father.
Sen. John Boozman, a Republican of Arkansas, said in an interview on March 12, when asked if military intervention in North Korea has to be taken into consideration, “I think you do have to consider everything and certainly, I think it’s a great mistake whenever you start taking things off the table.”
He said the issue is a “great test” for President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress, which he said is working “very, very hard” on it in a bipartisan way.
Boozman said a plan to deal with North Korea, which he referred to as a “significant adversary,” is “in the works now” and added, “I don’t know if we will be telegraphing exactly what we are going to do, what we are not going to do.”
Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado and chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, urged the Donald Trump administration to take “immediate and determined actions” in a statement on March 5 to “stop the madman in Pyongyang” after North Korea fired four ballistic missiles.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, last month that it was crucial “to pressure China on Korean reunification to eliminate the regime in North Korea,” reported the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal on Feb. 24. He called for China “to apply its unique power to stop Kim Jong-un from nuclear terrorism around the world.”
Bolton was considered for secretary of state by the Trump administration.
Washington has been ramping up pressure on Beijing to rein in Pyongyang amid its latest missile launches, the shocking assassination in Kuala Lumpur of Kim Jong-nam, the leader’s half brother, and a new high-thrust rocket engine test.
U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce on March 21 introduced a new bill, “Korea Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act,” calling for tightened sanctions on North Korea.
A possible pre-emptive military strike against North Korea has also been mentioned more frequently on Capitol Hill with the onset of the Trump administration.
“The closer that the North Korean regime gets to being able to deliver a nuclear weapon, we’re going to have to be in a position to take some type of pre-emptive strike,” Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican of California told Fox News on March 19, calling the North Korean government “an unhinged regime.”
He lauded U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s distancing of himself from the Barack Obama administration’s policy of strategic patience toward North Korea. “At the end of the day here, something may have to be done because we can’t afford to let a nuclear weapon go off in Seoul or Tokyo or the United States for that matter,” he said.
The strong stance against Pyongyang taken by the U.S. Congress and White House has a direct impact on Seoul, which will also be undergoing a review of its policy toward North Korea.
South Korea’s next president will have to find a balance between a changing policy in Washington and Pyongyang’s continued provocations.
BY CHAE BYUNG-GUN, SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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