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Trump says all options are open

After bombing Syrian base, he calls for ways to deal with North
Apr 11,2017
U.S. President Donald Trump ordered his top national security adviser to prepare “a full range of options” for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats as Pyongyang appears to be gearing up for its next provocation.

H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, described Pyongyang as “a rogue regime that is now a nuclear capable regime” in an interview with Fox News Sunday and said that Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump agreed this was “unacceptable.”

McMaster said that during their summit Thursday and Friday in Florida, the two leaders called for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He added that Trump had asked him to be “prepared to give him a full range of options to remove that threat to the American people and to our allies and partners in the region.”

Such remarks by U.S. top diplomatic and security officials come amid predictions of another major provocation by North Korea this month, including a possible sixth nuclear test that some analysts say could be up to 14 times more powerful than the last.

Some possible options Washington may be considering are tougher unilateral sanctions as well as secondary sanctions that would penalize a third country that does illegal business with North Korea, the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear assets to Korea and even a pre-emptive strike.

The possibility of conducting a pre-emptive military strike on the North, highly worrisome for Seoul, has been considered taboo in the past. After the start of the Trump administration, which has reiterated that all options are on the table in dealing with Pyongyang, it is being mentioned more frequently.

Trump’s decision to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian air base in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians - which came during Trump’s dinner with Xi - has been seen as a message that his administration is willing to translate words into action.

In the interview, McMaster said the objective of the strike on Syria was for Washington to “send a very strong political message” for the first time to al-Assad “and to his sponsors who are enabling his campaign of mass murder against his own civilians.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on ABC TV’s “This Week” on Sunday likewise pointed out that the missile strike on Syria served as a warning to countries including North Korea.

He said, “The message that any nation can take is: if you violate international norms, if you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.”

However Tillerson added that the objective is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and that Washington has “no objective to change the regime in North Korea.”

In a separate interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Tillerson said, “President Xi clearly understands, and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken.” His remarks echoed Trump’s declaration that he is ready to take on North Korea alone if China, its main enabler, does not cooperate.

In a show of force in the region, the U.S. Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group to move closer to the Korean Peninsula.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, directed the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson and its accompanying ships, including two guided-missile destroyers and a guided-missile cruiser, to sail north to the Western Pacific from Singapore on Saturday, instead of heading for Australia as originally scheduled.

The aircraft carrier group was in the region less than a month ago for joint drills with the South Korean Navy, and its return so soon is considered a signal to countries in the area of Washington’s strategic presence.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said Monday that the deployment of the strike group shows that the United States “recognizes the seriousness of the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon Sang-gyun, spokesman for the ministry, said in a briefing, “Taking into consideration that there are various North Korean political events in April… and the possibility of North Korea’s strategic provocation including an additional nuclear test or missile launch, we are maintaining a full readiness posture to deter North Korea’s provocations.”

Pyongyang will hold its 13th meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly, its rubber-stamp legislature, on Tuesday, celebrate the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s 105th birthday anniversary on April 15 and also mark the 85th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean People’s Army on April 25.

South Korea’s Minister of Unification Hong Yong-pyo warned reporters in Seoul Monday that the United States “has to take into consideration the many other problems that a pre-emptive strike may bring about.”

Hong added that the Korean government will discuss with Washington what effect a pre-emptive strike would have on national security and the safety of the people.

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