Security adviser warns Pyongyang of ‘toolkit’

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Security adviser warns Pyongyang of ‘toolkit’

U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien warned Sunday that the United States has a lot of “tools in the toolkit” and “will take action” if North Korea does something aggressive like a long-range missile test.

“The United States will take action, as we do in these situations,” said O’Brien in an interview with ABC News on Sunday when asked about the consequences of the North conducting a long-range missile or nuclear test. “If [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un takes that approach, we will be extraordinarily disappointed, and we will demonstrate that disappointment.”

Pyongyang threatened a “Christmas gift” as its year-end deadline for Washington to adopt a new approach to denuclearization negotiations approached.

While Christmas passed without an intercontinental ballistic missile test, observers are watching closely what policy direction may be outlined in North Korean leader Kim’s annual New Year’s speech.

While Washington is still monitoring continued threats from the North, O’Brien noted, “I think the president has engaged in personal diplomacy at a very high level with [Kim] over the years. And they have a good relationship personally. So perhaps he’s reconsidered that.”

However, he said that in the case of a long-range missile or nuclear test, “We have a lot of tools in our toolkit, and additional pressure can be brought to bear on the North Koreans,” adding “we will use those as necessary.”

Kim “has two paths in front of him,” said O’Brien. “He’s got a glorious path for the people of North Korea where they could become like South Korea and be a very prosperous, very wealthy country, or there’s another path that takes them down the road of sanctions and isolation and being a pariah state. And we’ll see which one they choose.”

He said it is up to Pyongyang to “take that opportunity or not” and warned, “And if they don’t take it, the United States is still the leading military power in the world. We have tremendous economic power […] so there’s a lot of pressure that we can bring to bear and we have to see what happens.”

O’Brien’s remarks hinted at both the possibility of further sanctions and even military action should Pyongyang turn away from diplomacy with Washington.

He said that former U.S. President Barack Obama had previously warned that “there could be a war on the Korean Peninsula,” but that President Donald Trump “took a different attack, with personal diplomacy” with “some success” so far, noting the commitments made during the first North-U.S. summit on June 12, 2018, in Singapore where North Korean leader Kim pledged to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

However, negotiations have been at a standstill since the collapse of the second North-U.S. summit in February in Hanoi, Vietnam.

O’Brien noted that his predecessor John Bolton and U.S. President Donald Trump “did not always see eye to eye on how to conduct American diplomacy.”

Bolton, the former U.S. national security adviser, recently said on North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons program that “there’s no serious chance they will ever voluntarily give it up.”

While aware of the dangers, Trump has “tried to de-escalate tensions and get to a point where Kim Jong-un will actually live up to his commitments,” said O’Brien. He added that Trump has made promises to the North: “One he has not insisted on regime change, and number two he’s laid out a path that if North Korea gives up its nuclear program, they can have an extraordinarily bright future with a great economy.”

His remarks indicated that Washington is still adhering to its diplomatic approach for the time being.

O’Brien also brushed off the bellicose rhetoric exchanged between Pyongyang and Washington, including Trump’s moniker of “Little Rocket Man” for Kim, saying “it’s their way of trying to negotiate,” and “all part of the give and take of interesting diplomacy with a hermit kingdom.”

He continued, “Actions speak louder than words, and we’ll have to see what actions the DPRK takes,” referring to the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

When asked if there has been any contact between North Korea and the United States since Stephen Biegun, the U.S. deputy secretary of state and special representative for North Korea, held working-level talks with a Pyongyang diplomat in Sweden in early October, O’Brien replied, “There are channels of communication that are open between the U.S. and DPRK, but I don’t want to get into the details of that communication.”

Biegun visited Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing this month but was not able to meet with Pyongyang officials during his visit.

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

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