|U.S. President Donald Trump|
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump sent North Korea a fresh warning Thursday not to engage in new provocations, as reports increased of an imminent public gesture by Pyongyang to mark its biggest national holiday, possibly with a nuclear test.
“North Korea is a problem,” Trump said at the White House. “The problem will be taken care of.”
While his remark was immediately taken as a threat of military action against the North, Trump added that China “is working very hard” to defuse the international tension over North Korea, and that he is hopeful Beijing’s diplomacy will be effective.
In a separate comment earlier Thursday, however, Trump said the United States is prepared to tackle the North Korean crisis without China, if necessary.
An American aircraft carrier and other warships are steaming toward the Korean Peninsula in a show of force this week, although there has been no specific U.S. threat of retaliatory action if Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test or launches more missiles in defiance of U.N. sanctions.
At the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Washington is “working with international partners in order to defuse the situation, but the bottom line is, North Korea has got to change its behavior.”
China calls for talks
China’s public comment about North Korea Thursday was terse: “Military force cannot resolve the issue,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing. “Amid tensions, we will also find a kind of opportunity to return to talks.”
China is North Korea’s sole major ally, but it opposes Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, along with all other neighbor states. Beijing has called for multiparty talks leading to a peaceful resolution that would denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
The state-backed Chinese newspaper Global Times said the best course for North Korea would be to give up its nuclear program, and it promised that Beijing will protect the North if that happens.
“As soon as North Korea complies with China’s declared advice and suspends nuclear activities ... China will actively work to protect the security of a denuclearized North Korean nation and regime,” Global Times said in an editorial.
Weapons test may be imminent
Amid the rhetoric from all sides Thursday, no information has emerged to challenge the news reports from earlier this week: North Korea appears to have placed a device in a tunnel at its nuclear test site that could be detonated Saturday or even sooner. VOA’s report, quoting U.S. government and other sources with that story Wednesday, was updated Thursday by a source within the U.S. intelligence community: “U.S. intelligence is always on the alert for a possible North Korean weapons test. Kim Jong Un wants his country to be validated as a nuclear power, and a test would further that goal.”
Scores of foreign journalists are in Pyongyang this week for North Korea’s biggest national holiday, the “Day of the Sun” Saturday, marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and the grandfather of the current ruler.
Five years ago, the late Kim Il Sung’s centenary was marked by a failed attempt to launch a North Korean space satellite, and last year Pyongyang tested a newly developed intermediate range missile — also a failure.
Satellite photographs this week have shown continuing activity around the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, which could be taken to indicate another underground nuclear test is imminent.
Fewer options for U.S.
Although South Korean and American troops are preparing for a round of joint military exercises — a regular event that Pyongyang has denounced as preparations for an invasion that would justify a massive counterattack — a spokesman for the South Korean joint chiefs of staff said Thursday that Seoul has seen no indications any military action by the North is imminent.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo told a security forum in Washington that North Korea’s military development has progressed to a point where Pyongyang is now closer than ever to being able to threaten the United States with a nuclear tipped intercontinental missile. That, in turn, has reduced U.S. defense officials’ options about how to respond to the North Korean threat, Pompeo added during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He indicated that a worst-case scenario would force the U.S. to take action against the North, and that would be “a tough day for the leader of North Korea.”
Discussion this week about possible U.S. military action against the North has referred to the cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase that Trump ordered last week, and the mammoth single bomb airstrike an American warplane carried out Thursday against an Islamic State bunker complex in northeastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border.
News that the U.S. had dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal, a 10,000-kilogram explosive that headline writers called “the mother of all bombs,” was taken as a message directed at Kim Jong Un. Trump brushed off questions about whether the bombing was a message for Pyongyang, but he stressed his feeling that North Korea is “a problem that will be taken care of.”
Contributors to this story included White House correspondent Steve Herman, Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb and VOA’s national security correspondent, Jeff Seldin.
This story first appeared on Voice of America & is reposted here with permission.