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Mnuchin: Trump wants to avoid nuclear war

Sept 26,2017
U.S. President Donald Trump wants to avoid nuclear war with North Korea, said his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“I can assure you the president’s number one priority is the safety of the American people and our allies,” Mnuchin said on an interview on ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday. “The president doesn’t want to be in a nuclear war. And we will do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t occur.”

Mnuchin’s remarks represent an attempt to tone down the bellicose back-and-forth denunciations between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his diplomats over the past week as world leaders gathered in New York for the opening of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly. Addressing the General Assembly on Sept. 19, Trump said, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission,” using his nickname for Kim, and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea.

The North Korean leader in turn called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” while his foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, suggested Pyongyang might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

Mnuchin had been asked whether a nuclear war is possible, following a Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,002 adult Americans released Sunday in which 42 percent of those surveyed said they do not trust Trump to “act responsibly in handling the situation involving North Korea,” while 20 percent said they only trust him a little.

Around 67 percent oppose launching a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea, while 72 percent trust U.S. military leaders to act responsibly in handling the situation.

If the United States did launch a pre-emptive strike, 82 percent said they believed it would risk a larger war, with 69 percent saying it would be a “major risk.”

To try to get the North to give up its nuclear weapons, 32 percent support Washington offering Pyongyang financial incentives, 39 percent support bombing North Korean targets, 43 percent support agreeing to stop joint military exercises with South Korea and 76 percent support tougher sanctions.

When asked whether the president made the issue personal by calling to “destroy” North Korea, Mnuchin replied, “This is not personal. This is about someone who is testing nuclear weapons, a hydrogen bomb that was dramatically bigger than any bomb that’s been used.”

Mnuchin also said Trump has made it clear that “these things are not going to continue to be allowed” and that such “behavior is unacceptable.”

Mnuchin, a member of Trump’s National Security Council, pointed out that he is “privy to plans,” saying Trump “has lots of alternatives that have been presented to him, and he’ll make decisions at the time.”

Mnuchin added, “The military is one form, economics is another form. And the president will pursue all the options.”

Highlighting the economic option, he pointed out that last week, Trump signed an executive order that allowed the Treasury Department to issue “the most strong sanctions that have ever been done.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department introduced a new set of unilateral sanctions that target foreign banks that do business with North Korea. Mnuchin added, “I can cut off financial institutions anywhere in the world that support North Korea.”

Similarly, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on the same day, “We have a long ways to go when it comes to the diplomatic runway toward North Korea,” emphasizing the role of sanctions.

“Our number one goal with North Korea… must and always will be peaceful denuclearization of the North Korean regime,” said Gardner, the chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific who authored the North Korea Sanctions Policy and Enhancement Act of 2016.

“We will stand to protect our great allies, South Korea, Japan, protect the U.S. homeland,” he said. “But we have a lot of work to do on the diplomatic and economic side before we think of any other option.”

He said it is “unacceptable to allow North Korea to maintain and retain a nuclear program” and added that to avoid proliferation in the region, “we have to make sure that we continue to work with our partners around the globe to peacefully denuclearize the regime.”

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