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Clash with North will be ‘biblical’: Risch

U.S. senator startled security experts with veiled threats of war
Feb 20,2018
Rather than a “bloody nose” preventive military strike on North Korea, any conflict between the United States and North Korea will be of “biblical proportions,” a U.S. senator warned at an annual international security conference in Munich on Sunday.

“There is no bloody nose policy,” Senator James Risch, Republican of Idaho, said at the Munich Security Conference. “Nobody knows where that came from. The administration says they never used the term, they never considered the strategy.”

He continued, painting a somber picture, “If this thing starts, it’s going to be probably one of the worst catastrophic events in the history of our civilization, but it is going to be very, very brief. The end of it is going to see mass casualties, the likes of which the planet has never seen. It will be of biblical proportions.”

The three-day conference kicked off Friday, bringing together senior security officials, politicians, diplomats and analysts, including U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. The North Korea nuclear issue was a key topic of discussion at the meetng.

Risch, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said in a panel that U.S. President Donald Trump has emphasized he is committed to preventing the Kim Jong-un regime from delivering a nuclear weapon to the United States. “Anyone who doubts the president’s commitment to see that doesn’t happen really does that at their own peril,” he said, warning of “breathtaking” consequences.

Risch further warned, “This president has at his fingertips the ability to dispense what he has said he is going to dispense if the North Korean regime, if Kim Jong-un, continues down the path that he is going. The president can do this quickly.”

The bloody nose option has received greater attention as a former White House National Security Council (NSC) official, Victor Cha, saw his nomination as U.S. ambassador to Seoul fall through last month apparently at least in part over his objection to such a strike on the North.

Trump controversially tweeted on North Korea on Jan. 3: “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his.”

Another panelist, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat of Rhode Island, also said that he was told by McMaster there is no bloody nose strategy and was asked to say this publically.

Risch’s remarks alarmed some experts at the conference.

“Senator Risch just said if Trump uses force in N. Korea, it will be massive and swift, not a bloody nose,” Thomas Wright, a director of the Brookings Institute’s Center on the United States and Europe, tweeted during the conference. “Casualties and destruction of conflict would be ‘biblical.’ Trump has means ‘at his fingertips.’ With that bombshell dropped, he leaves for the airport,” indicating Risch did not take any questions.

Wright also pointed out in a separate tweet that the Trump administration is “playing some semantics here.” He continued, “As I understand it they are considering a larger preventive strike to eliminate much of [North Korea’s] strike capability. Allows them to say no bloody nose strategy but preventive force still being discussed.”

“We must pressure the Kim regime,” McMaster said in his keynote address to the conference Friday, “using all available tools to ensure that this cruel dictatorship cannot threaten the world with the most destructive weapons on earth.”

He went on to call on all nations to enforce existing sanctions and also “to commit to downgrading diplomatic relations, cutting off all trade, military and commercial ties and expelling so-called guest workers.”

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, while invited to attend the conference, did not attend due to her obligations at the ongoing Winter Olympics. Ruling Democratic Party Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae attended as a panelist.

Washington, however, has been focusing more on a “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time” approach touted by Pence recently.

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” which aired Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said about a military option with North Korea, should a diplomatic option fail, “I say to my Chinese counterpart: ‘You and I fail, these people get to fight. That’s not what we want.’”

Tillerson added he is willing to “work with” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “to achieve this diplomatically.”

He continued, “What we have to determine now is, are we even ready to start? Are they ready to start?” Until North Korea is ready, he said Washington will keep the pressure campaign going.

Tillerson said that there is a “common understanding with China,” adding, “We’ve been very clear with [China] that they are going to have an important role to play once we get to the negotiating table.”

He elaborated on the format of such talks, saying, “Early on they might be one-on-one discussions for the U.S. first and North Korea to determine is there a reason to begin to put the construct for negotiations in place.”

Tillerson also clarified how he would know whether North Korea is ready to talk.

“They will tell me,” he said. “We receive messages from them. And I think it will be very explicit as to how we want to have that first conversation.”

Tillerson added, “our diplomatic efforts will continue until that first bomb drops. My job is to never have a reason for the first bomb to drop.”

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