US officials warn tensions with North Korea are ’coming to a head’
US national security adviser pushes for peaceful resolution after country’s failed missile test, as Donald Trump hopes for Chinese intervention.
Donald Trump and senior officials said on Sunday the US would consider any lever – diplomatic, economic or military – to forestall North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, a day after the vice-president arrived in the area and the isolated nation launched a missile test that failed .
The president and his national security adviser, HR McMaster, said they first hoped that China would act on its neighbor, which depends on Beijing to prop up its trade and finances. Trump said that had backtracked on a campaign promise to immediately denounce China, in order to push the country on North Korea.
“Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem?” he wrote on Twitter from his resort in south Florida. “We will see what happens!”
McMaster also hailed the president’s new relationship with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, whom he hosted in Florida earlier this month.
“The consensus with the president, our key allies in the regions – Japan and South Korea in particular, but also the Chinese leadership – is that this problem is coming to a head,” McMaster told ABC’s This Week, speaking from Afghanistan.
“It’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully.”
Each missile and atomic bomb test – officials had feared a sixth nuclear test over the weekend – represented steady progress for dictator Kim Jong-un, McMaster said, whether or not a given test was deemed successful by his regime. The adviser refused to rule out overt or covert military action to stop what he called “a grave threat to all people”.
“This is a situation that just can’t continue,” McMaster said. “The president’s made very clear that he is not in the business of announcing in advance exactly what he’s going to do in any particular situation.”
McMaster held out hope that Beijing could exert economic pressure on Pyongyang. He said Trump and Xi had cultivated a “warm relationship” and that the Chinese leader was “courageous” to abstain from siding with Russia in the United Nations this week . China had previously joined Russia in voting against resolutions to denounce the actions of Syria’s government in its civil war.
During their meeting, Xi briefly told Trump about the deep ties and complicated history between China and North Korea, Trump told the Wall Street Journal this week .
“After listening for 10 minutes I realized that not – it’s not so easy,” Trump said, expressing surprise at the pressures of trade and migration along the Chinese-North Korean border. “A lot of goods come in. But it’s not what you would think.”
A few days after that meeting, though, Trump said he would be willing to act alone. “If China decides to help, that would be great,” he tweeted. “If not, we will solve the problem without them!”
American defense and intelligence officials have refused to say whether the US, possibly through a covert cyber-attack, played a role in causing the North Korean missile to explode after its test launch. On Sunday, the deputy national security adviser, KT McFarland, told Fox News Sunday she could not say whether a cyber campaign begun by Barack Obama’s administration had continued .
“You know we can’t talk about that,” she said.
On Saturday, the US defense secretary, Jim Mattis, delivered an unusually curt statement on the launch. “The president and his military team are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch,” he said. “The president has no further comment.”
In Seoul, Mike Pence made more familiar remarks promising support for its allies in the Pacific. Speaking at an Easter dinner on a military base, the US vice-president called the test a “provocation” and promised US support for South Korea.
“Our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger,” Pence said. During his presidential campaign, Trump wavered on this assurance and suggested that Japan and South Korea should perhaps defend themselves .
Only about 35 miles from the demilitarized zone, Seoul stands within range of North Korean artillery, a detail noted by American lawmakers on Sunday as they argued for urgent diplomacy and sanctions. Nearly 30,000 American service members are stationed in South Korea, and the US sent an aircraft carrier toward the peninsula last week.
John McCain told NBC’s Meet the Press that China was “the key” to preventing “what could be a cataclysmic event”.
“They can stop this if the want to because of their control over the North Korean economy,” the Republican senator said.
Bernie Sanders similarly told CNN’s State of the Union that partners in Asia must act in tandem, saying: “The United States must not act impulsively and we must not act unilaterally.”
Sanders and Ed Royce, the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, argued for more sanctions. Royce specifically urged the president to impose sanctions on 10 Chinese banks, to choke funding for North Korea’s missile program.
“We are looking at shutting off every dime of money that goes in there,” Royce told CNN.
Chinese diplomats have grown increasingly frustrated with Kim’s regime, and in February Beijing banned North Korean coal imports, a major source of income. In January, China said it would comply with new UN sanctions. Even so, trade between the nations has increased since last year: North Korea does 80-90% of its trade with China.
North Korean officials did not comment on the failed missile launch. On Saturday, Kim celebrated the 105th anniversary of his grandfather’s birth, a holiday called the Day of the Sun. From a raised platform, Kim watched soldiers march and wheel out a large, camouflage-painted missile that was put on display for the foreign press.
McMaster said the propaganda was disturbing, even though it was not clear whether the missile was genuine or a shell for show.
* The Guardian. Sunday 16 April 2017 17.30 BST Last modified on Sunday 16 April 2017 18.47 BST:
Top US security official says ’all options are on the table’ when it comes to dealing with North Korea
’There is an international consensus now, including the Chinese leadership, that this is a situation that just cannot continue,’ says Lt General HR McMaster.
US National Security Adviser HR McMaster has claimed that “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with the threat of North Korea.
Responding to what is believed to be a failed ballistic missile test by the Asian nation in the early hours of Sunday, Lt General McMaster said that the latest test “fits into a pattern of provocative and destabilising and threatening behaviour on the part of the North Korean regime”.
With US Vice President Mike Pence also touching down in Seoul in South Korea, it is clear that US officials are making a concerted diplomatic push to try and get the situation in North Korea under control and reassure allies in the region.
General McMaster was speaking from Afghanistan, where he was due to meet with Afghan officials in Kabul. That visit follows the use by the US military of the largest non-nuclear weapon they have ever dropped in combat, the so-called “mother of all bombs,” which destroyed a network of tunnels used by Isis in Afghanistan.
Destroying Isis was the main foreign policy aim of US President Donald Trump when he came into office earlier this year, but his administration now finds itself at the centre of a number of international crises, including the conflict in Syria, and new aggression from North Korea. This is seemingly at odds with Mr Trump’s isolationist rhetoric on the campaign trail where he espoused a policy framework based on the slogan ’America First’.
The chain of events that led to such frantic diplomatic efforts began in Syria almost two weeks ago, when an apparent chemical gas attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun killed dozens of civilians and prompted the US to launch 59 missiles at a Syrian airbase. The US, along with the majority of the international community, blamed the gas attack on the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, although the regime - and their main supporters Russia - have denied it. Mr Trump said that the attack “crossed many lines” and he could not stand by, a U-turn on the previous policy reiterated just days previously that Mr Assad was not the priority in Syria, the jihadis of Isis were.
The US missile strike, which was labelled a “warning shot” against further use of chemical attacks by Mr Assad, signalled Mr Trump may be willing to shed his isolationist policies when the need arose, despite it threatening to alienate his core support. The strike on Syria was followed by the use of the GBU-42 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb on Isis positions in Afghanistan, with the dropping of the weapon also likely a signal to North Korea - whose rhetoric over the threat of war in the Asia-Pacific region had itself been escalating.
In light of all these moves, a strong US response to North Korea had been expected - particularly as a military test, potentially a nuclear one, had been expected on the weekend of North Korea staging a massive military parade celebrating the birth of its state founder. General McMaster made clear that it was working with China - who provides the majority of supplies to North Korea and try and resolve the aggression by North Korea.
“There is an international consensus now, including the Chinese leadership, that this is a situation that just cannot continue,” he said
In the UK, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted: “I strongly condemn the latest North Korean missile launch. They must stop these belligerent acts and comply with UN resolutions.”
Such US cooperation with China makes a softening of the Trump administration’s stance on China - with the US President having previously used China as one of his main scapegoats over changes to US trade practices that Mr Trump would oversee once in office.
Mr Trump has previously accused the country of apparent currency manipulation that leaves the leaves the US at a disadvantage on trade.
However, Mr Trump acknowledged China’s help with the North Korean issue on Sunday, linking it to a softer line taken on China’s management of its currency. “Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? We will see what happens!” he said on Twitter - reversing his campaign rhetoric.
China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also exchanged views on the “situation on the Korean peninsula” by phone, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said. Mr Yang said the two sides should maintain dialogue.
General McMaster, in remarks in ABC’s This Week news programme, made clear that the US would be looking to resolve the Issue peacefully. Former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind suggested that action from the US may have already taken place without the need for a direct military confrontation “[The missile] could have failed because the system is not competent enough to make it work, but there is a very strong belief that the US - through cyber methods - has been successful on several occasions in interrupting these sorts of tests and making them fail,” Sir Malcolm told the BBC on Sunday.
But in a further tweet, Mr Trump referenced the military might of the US, following the line of officials in recent days that the country may not be afraid to use more direct methods in the face of further provocation - as in Syria and Afghanistan.
“Our military is building and is rapidly becoming stronger than ever before. Frankly, we have no choice!” Mr Trump said.
South Korea said the North’s latest show of force “threatened the whole world” but a US foreign policy adviser travelling with Mr Pence on Air Force Two sought to defuse some of the tension, saying the test of what was believed to be a medium-range missile had come as no surprise.
“We had good intelligence before the launch and good intelligence after the launch,” the adviser told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“It’s a failed test. It follows another failed test. So really no need to reinforce their failure. We don’t need to expend any resources against that.
"It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. The good news is that after five seconds it fizzled out.”
Mr Pence, addressing an Easter service with American troops in South Korea, said the US commitment to South Korea was unwavering.
“Let me assure you under President Trump’s leadership, our resolve has never been stronger. Our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger.”
Mr Pence was beginning a 10-day trip to Asia in what his aides said was a sign of US commitment to its ally in the face of rising tension. The US nuclear-powered Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group is also heading to the region.
South Korea, which hosts 28,500 US troops and holds a presidential election on 9 May, warned of punitive action if the Sunday launch led to further provocation.
“North Korea showing a variety of offensive missiles at yesterday’s military parade and daring to fire a ballistic missile today is a show of force that threatens the whole world,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Impoverished North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
The North has warned of a nuclear strike against the United States if provoked. It has said it has developed and would launch a missile that can strike the mainland United States but officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering the necessary technology, including miniaturising a nuclear warhead.
Earlier this month, the North launched a ballistic missile from the same region as the latest test, ahead of a summit between the United States and China in Florida to discuss the North’s arms programme.
But that missile, which US officials said appeared to be a liquid-fuelled, extended-range Scud, only flew about 40 miles (60km), a fraction of its range before spinning out of control.
As for China, the nation has appeared increasingly frustrated with the North. It banned imports of North Korean coal in February, cutting off its most important export. China’s customs department issued an order last week telling traders to return North Korean coal cargoes.
Agencies contributed to this report
* The Independent US. Sunday 16 April 2017 14:00 BST:
US Vice-President describes failed North Korean missile launch as ’provocation’ after landing in South Korea
Mike Pence says US resolve to help South Korea ’has never been stronger’ amid turmoil over North’s threats to advance nuclear and defence capabilities
Mike Pence has called North Korea’s failed missile launch a “provocation” after landing in South Korea for a 10-day tour of Asia.
The US Vice President arrived in the region a day after North Korea paraded missiles and military hardware, warning America of advancements in its nuclear and defence capabilities.
“This morning’s provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face every day in the defence of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defence of America in this part of the world,” he told troops at a military base in Seoul.
Mr Pence said America’s resolve to help South Korea “has never been stronger”, adding: “Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re going to rebuild our military.”
North Korea attempted to fire a missile which exploded during its launch, US and South Korean officials said – a high-profile failure that comes as a powerful US aircraft supercarrier approaches the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
Donald Trump described the carrier group as an “armada” as he indicated the US will toughen its stance towards North Korea, tweeting last week: “If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!”
The failed missile launch followed a huge military display in Pyongyang, the hermit kingdom’s capital, to mark the birth anniversary of the nation’s founding president Kim Il-sung.
What appeared to be new inter-continental ballistic missiles were unveiled at the parade, as a close aide to dictator Kim Jong-un warned that Mr Trump’s actions could unleash nuclear war.
“If the United States wages reckless provocation against us, our revolutionary power will instantly counter with annihilating strike, and we will respond to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike warfare,” Choe Ryong-hae told crowds.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, including two last year. Recent satellite imagery suggests the country could conduct another underground nuclear test at any time.
The White House said it believed the latest test involved a medium-range ballistic missile that failed within four to five seconds after launch, and that it did not involve an inter-continental ballistic missile.
The missile blew up “almost immediately” after it was attempted at 11.21 Hawaii time – 9.21pm UK time – from the east coast city of Sinpo, said US Navy Commander Dave Benham.
The North regularly launches short-range missiles, but is also developing mid-range and long-range missiles meant to target US troops in Asia and, eventually, the US mainland.
After his arrival in Seoul, Mr Pence placed a wreath at Seoul National Cemetery and then worshipped with military personnel at an Easter church service at the US Army Garrison Yongsan.
During a meal after the services, he said the tensions on the Korean peninsula had put into sharp focus the importance of the joint US-South Korean mission.
“Our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger," said the Vice President.
“With your help, and with God’s help, freedom will ever prevail on this peninsula.”
Mr Pence told the military members that he had spoken twice with Mr Trump during the day.
China’s foreign minister urged both the US and North Korea to de-escalate the situation before it gets to an “irreversible and unmanageable stage” on Friday, calling on both sides to “refrain from provoking and threatening each other”.
“If a war occurs, the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner,” Wang Yi warned.
Shannon Kile, a nuclear specialist at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said North Korea had previously deployed “mock-ups” of missiles at its parades and it was difficult to verify the weapons on show.
He told The Independent what appeared to be the KN-08 ICBM was rolled out, although it has not yet been flight tested, as well as large canisters indicating the possible development of a “cold launch” long-range missile.
Additional reporting from agencies
* The Independent US. Sunday 16 April 2017 12:15 BST:
Trump’s North Korea sabre-rattling has a flaw: Kim Jong-un has nothing to lose
Strategy of sending in the US navy and attacking Syria and Afghanistan likely only to boost Pyongyang’s nuclear resolve.
In the lead-up to North Korea’s latest missile test, Donald Trump had battled to convince Kim Jong-un he was picking a fight with the wrong guy.
The US president pounded Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles and then ordered a naval “armada” into the waters around the Korean peninsula. He dropped the “mother of all bombs” on eastern Afghanistan and used Twitter to hammer home his message.
“North Korea is looking for trouble,” the US president tweeted last week as Kim’s technicians made the final preparations for Sunday’s botched but nevertheless defiant test.
But experts say Pyongyang’s latest act has underlined the futility of the billionaire’s efforts to bully Kim Jong-un into abandoning his nuclear ambitions.
“There is a problem with playing the military threat [card] with North Korea because they are inclined to call the bluff,” said John Delury, a North Korea expert from Yonsei University in Seoul. “I’m not saying they tested because of the threats. But bringing a naval strike group doesn’t help if your goal is to put off a test. If anything you are increasing the odds.”
Trump supporters claim his apparent strategy of using spectacular shows of military might to cow the North Korean dictator and convince the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to crack down on his ally is paying off.
“Displays of American power matter. A lot,” Daniel Blumenthal, a China specialist from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative thinktank, argued on Twitter, describing the strikes on Syria and Afghanistan as “very much messages to Xi and Kim”.
Some observers point to a recent editorial in a Communist party-controlled newspaper, the Global Times, as proof that Trump has finally convinced Beijing to rein in Kim Jong-un by dramatically tightening sanctions .
Delury, however, said there was no evidence to suggest Xi was prepared to do anything more than “increase some sanctions here and there”. “The Global Times can write all the editorials it wants but China’s approach on this is consistent”. Beijing’s message to Trump was crystal clear, he said: “Cool down.”
In fact, Delury claimed Trump’s sabre-rattling rhetoric and erratic use of force would only strengthen Kim’s determination to develop an effective nuclear deterrent that might spare him the fate of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.
“It’s really just playing Pyongyang’s game. It is a waste of time and the Trump administration should move onto a more promising avenue to solve the problem ... Since they have nothing to lose and we have everything to lose, they win every game of chicken.”
Leonid Petrov, a North Korea specialist at the Australian National University, said that with its latest missile launch “the message from North Korea is that despite US posturing they are not going to abandon their missile programme”.
Petrov said he was not surprised Kim Jong-un had chosen not to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the birth of the founder of North Korea, his grandfather Kim Il-sung, with an anticipated sixth nuclear test.
“Given the physical damage that would cause to nearby areas, it would have been unusual for a loyal, filial grandson to order a nuclear test on such an auspicious day,” he said.
But when that test does come it would prove the day of reckoning for Trump’s more aggressive approach towards North Korea. “If the US responds with an attack, that would confirm Kim’s claims that he is surrounded by hostile forces that are determined to carry out a pre-emptive strike,” Petrov said.
“The moment of truth for the US will be whether it strikes [in response to a nuclear test] and provokes a resumption of the Korean war at the expense of South Korean security, or stands down and betrays its weakness.”
“What would the US do? Withdraw, hang around or strike?” Petrov asked. “The ball is in the Americans’ court.”
Tom Phillips in Beijing and Justin McCurry in Tokyo
* The Guardian. Sunday 16 April 2017 13.12 BST First published on Sunday 16 April 2017 05.55 BST:
Donald Trump ’backs himself into corner’ after threatening North Korea with military action over nuclear tests.
Donald Trump may have “backed himself into a corner” by threatening North Korea with military action over its weapons tests, experts have warned.
Kim Jong-un watched what appeared to be new inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) roll through Pyongyang as part of a huge show of force on Saturday, just two days after the US President vowed to “properly deal” with his government.
There was no sign of a sixth nuclear test on the symbolic Day of the Sun, which marks his grandfather’s birthday, but analysts believe a major new launch could be imminent.
China is among the countries urging both North Korea and the US to de-escalate the situation as an American strike group headed by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier heads towards the region.
John Nilsson-Wright, a senior research fellow for North East Asia at Chatham House, said the deployment put Mr Trump in a difficult position.
He told The Independent the President may have “boxed himself into a corner” by vowing not to tolerate any more violations from North Korea when the country has so far been undeterred by the international community.
“If it does carry out more testing, how does he spin this to his own people?” Dr Nilsson-Wright asked, saying Mr Trump may have been made overconfident by support for high profile strikes in Afghanistan and Syria.
“A show of force has to be credible and the situation is so precarious on the Korean Peninsula that it’s hard for that to happen.”
The US President has made a series of threats towards the DPRK, which was the main topic of talks with Chinese leaders earlier this month, writing on Twitter that the US would “properly deal with North Korea” if Beijing was unable to rein in its ally.
Mr Trump later announced the deployment of an “armada” to the region in an apparent attempt to deter North Korea’s repeated violations of UN sanctions.
China’s foreign minister urged both the US and North Korea to deescalate the situation before it gets to an “irreversible and unmanageable stage” on Friday, calling on both sides to “refrain from provoking and threatening each other”.
Pyongyang has intensified its rhetoric in the wake of large deployments to its enemies in South Korea and military exercises while continuing its weapons programme.
A senior official addressing crowds at a military parade on Saturday vowed that Mr Trump’s “reckless provocation” could be met with an “annihilating strike” using nuclear weapons.
Experts have dismissed the country’s claims of developing a nuclear missile that could strike the mainland US but the appearance of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched missiles at the parade suggested development is continuing.
Analysts said what appeared to be two new kinds of ICBM, enclosed in canister launchers mounted on the back of lorries, were shown, as were Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which have a range of more than 600 miles.
Dr Nilsson-Wright, who is also a senior lecturer at Cambridge University, said North Korea had made clear any new launch “will happen at the time and place of their choosing” in spite of increasing shows of force by Mr Trump.
He said that although North Korea would not have missed the military might on show in Afghanistan, Kim may be incentivised to push forward with weapons testing to “thumb his nose” at the US President.
“Mr Trump may have overreached here - you still need diplomacy, you still need an effective State Department – ideally staffed with officials who know what they’re doing,” Dr Nilsson-Wright added.
“Trying to channel his inner Nixon is probably not the most effective way of dealing with North Korea.”
Despite the President’s fiery rhetoric, US officials told the Associated Press that the Trump administration had settled on a policy emphasising on increasing pressure on Pyongyang with the help of China, instead of military options or trying to overthrow Kim’s regime.
A military official said the US does not intend to use force against North Korea in response to either a nuclear test or a missile launch.
Shannon Kile, a nuclear specialist at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said both were possible as development efforts aiming to miniaturise nuclear weapons and launch long-range and solid fuel missiles continue.
What military experts say appears to be a North Korean KN-08 inter-continental ballistic missile is paraded across Kim Il Sung Square during a military parade on 15 April (AP)
Mr Kile said Saturday’s show of force in Pyongyang appeared to show some technical progress towards systems that could be easier to transport and hide ahead of any potential attack.
“The North Korean government is spinning this as a slap in the face for Mr Trump,” he told The Independent.
“They have a long-term programme in place that has been continuing for decades.”
Kim’s government is still holding the door open for direct dialogue with the US, Mr Kile said, but tensions are worsening.
“North Korea appears to be moving nuclear weapons from being an existential deterrent to taking on an operational war fighting role,” he added.
“The risk here is that there could be inadvertent escalation based on an accident or miscalculation.”
Growing international concerns have left British voters viewing North Korea as a bigger threat to world peace than the crisis in Syria .
A ComRes survey for The Independent found that 46 per cent of adults are more concerned about the secretive state than the Syrian civil war, which Isis has exploited to expand and use as a launch pad for global terror attacks.
* The Independent US. Sunday 16 April 2017 10:49 BST: