Trump team softens war talk on NKorea
The Trump administration has told lawmakers it will apply economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, as an extraordinary White House briefing served to tamp down talk of military action against an unpredictable and increasingly dangerous US adversary.
President Donald Trump welcomed Republican and Democratic senators before his secretary of state, defence secretary, top general and national intelligence director conducted a classified briefing.
The same team was also meeting with House members in the Capitol to outline the North’s escalating nuclear capabilities and US response options to what they called an “urgent national security threat”.
After weeks of unusually blunt military threats, the joint statement by the agency chiefs said Trump’s approach “aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners”.
It made no specific mention of military options, though it said the US would defend itself and friends.
The unprecedented meeting reflected the increased American alarm over North Korea’s progress in developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the US mainland.
A flurry of military activity, by North Korea and the US and its partners on and around the divided Korean Peninsula, has added to the world’s sense of alert.
While tensions have increased since Trump took office, they’ve escalated dramatically in recent weeks as American and other intelligence agencies suggested the North was readying for a possible nuclear test.
Trump has sent high-powered US military vessels and an aircraft carrier to the region in a show of force, while the North conducted large-scale, live-fire artillery drills, witnessed by national leader Kim Jong Un, earlier this week.
On Wednesday, South Korea started installing key parts of a contentious US missile defence system that also has sparked Chinese and Russian concerns.
America’s Pacific forces commander, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., told Congress on Wednesday the system would be operational within days, and any North Korean missile fired at US forces would be destroyed.
The Trump administration has said all options, including a military strike, are on the table, but the administration’s statement after briefing senators outlined a similar approach to the Obama administration’s focus on pressuring Pyongyang to return to long-stalled denuclearisation talks.
Among the options are returning North Korea to the US state sponsor of terrorism blacklist, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week was under consideration.
His spokesman, Mark Toner, said on Wednesday that another tactic is getting nations around the world to close down North Korean embassies and consulates, or suspending them from international organisations.
China opposes the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system, or THAAD, being installed in South Korea, rejecting American assurances that it will only target North Korean missiles.