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McMaster: U.S. is ready to respond to North’s threats

June 30,2017
U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Wednesday that military options have been prepared to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, in line with President Donald Trump’s orders.

“What we have to do is prepare all options because the president has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea and a threat that can target the United States and target the American population,” McMaster said during remarks at the Washington-based think tank Center for a New American Security, sponsored by the Washington Post.

He added, “The president asked us to prepare a range of options, including a military option that no one wants to take.”

While Trump has initially emphasized that “all options are on the table” to deal with North Korea, his administration has since settled on a “maximum pressure and engagement strategy to denuclearize the regime, putting more weight on diplomacy.

The remark came on the eve of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s first summit with President Trump in Washington over Thursday and Friday, where the two leaders are expected to coordinate their approaches to North Korea.

At the conference, McMaster described Trump’s North Korea strategy as a clean break from that of previous administrations, adding that this approach was defined by a “candid recognition that China does have a great deal of control” over North Korea.

In a message on Twitter on June 20, Trump wrote, “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!”

The message seemed to be an attempt to pressure Beijing ahead of the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington on June 21 and 22, but also indicated a possible shift in Washington’s approach to North Korea, as Trump has warned that his administration is ready to act alone if necessary.

Two U.S. military officials told CNN Wednesday that military options for North Korea have recently been updated and are ready to be presented to Trump if Pyongyang conducts a sixth nuclear test or ballistic missile test that indicates the regime has made significant progress toward an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can reach the United States.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo told MSNBC on Saturday, “I hardly ever escape a day at the White House without the president asking me about North Korea and how it is that the United States is responding to that threat.”

Seoul has especially been concerned over Washington resorting to military action, especially a pre-emptive strike on the North, which would surely lead the regime to retaliate. In their first meeting in Washington on Wednesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson agreed to “closely work together” to form a “joint strategy for solving the North Korean nuclear problem,” while seeking denuclearization, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thursday.

Tillerson was quoted as saying that he expected that the Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance “will play a key role in resolving regional issues, including the North Korean nuclear issue.”

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