President Donald Trump threatened to increase economic sanctions and halt trade with any nation doing business with North Korea, and his defense chief said the U.S. has “many military options” after the regime said it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb with “unprecedentedly big power.”
Trump responded to the test, which drew international condemnation, in a series of tweets. He outlined plans for new sanctions that would target China, which still has commercial ties with North Korea, and criticized South Korea for its “talk of appeasement.”
Outside the White House this afternoon, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with him and other national security advisers about the latest provocation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Mattis promised a “massive military response — a response both effective and overwhelming” if the U.S. or any of its allies are threatened.
“We have many military options,” Mattis said, appearing alongside General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We made clear that we have the ability to defend ourselves and our allies South Korea and Japan from any attack."
"We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, but as I said, we have many options to do so,” Mattis said.
Trump said, “We’ll see,” when asked earlier in the day by a reporter whether he plans to attack North Korea. But the focus of his Tweets and remarks by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were on tighter sanctions, not military action.
“The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea,” Trump said on Twitter. Its “words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.”
Trump’s tweet followed Mnuchin saying on “Fox News Sunday” that the U.S. administration will draft a new set of sanctions seeking to stop companies that work with North Korea from doing business with American firms.
“I am going to draft a sanctions package to send to the president for his strong consideration that anybody that wants to do trade or business with them would be prevented from doing trade or business with us,” Mnuchin said. “People need to cut off North Korea economically. This is unacceptable behavior.”
The U.S., Japan, France, the U.K. and South Korea have called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Monday, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Twitter. The North Korea action comes in the middle of a Labor Day weekend when the Trump administration was focusing on its response to Hurricane Harvey that slammed into Texas and Louisiana last week.
The test was "an order of magnitude bigger than anything else we’ve seen the North Koreans explode,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said. “A larger weapon can obviously wreak more destruction. But I think there is also a political aspect — the North Koreans want an arsenal as modern as anyone else.”
Dunford spoke with South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong and they agreed to prepare an unspecified military response, Yonhap News Agency said. South Korea will discuss ways to possibly deploy the U.S.’s "most powerful" strategic assets, Chung said at a briefing, without elaborating. The presidential office in Seoul on Friday dismissed the possibility of housing U.S. nuclear weapons in the country.
“All options are on the table,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on public broadcaster NHK.
Still, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a statement that he was furious about the test, he also urged North Korea to agree to negotiations. Trump criticized South Korea for this approach. “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” he said in another Tweet.
While Mnuchin said U.S. allies need to be united in confronting North Korea economically, Trump said on Saturday he would discuss the future of the U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement with his advisers. The Washington Post reported he’s considering terminating that pact. That shouldn’t happen now, said Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Now, it’s particularly troubling, given what South Korea is faced with,” Flake said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “I think that we need to do more trade, not less. And withdrawing from trade agreements is a very troubling sign.”
Sunday’s tests follow successive launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S., and the firing of a missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean last week.
It’s the second time North Korea has conducted a major provocation while China hosted a big international event. President Xi Jinping is hosting counterparts from Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa in a three-day meeting starting on Sunday in Xiamen.
China’s foreign ministry issued a statement condemning the nuclear test. “China urges North Korea to abide by Security Council resolutions, stop taking actions that will worsen the situation and at the same time won’t benefit its own interests, and to return to the path of dialogue to solve the problem,” it said.
Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to deal “appropriately” with the test and to stick to the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
China has resisted doing anything that would lead to the collapse of Kim’s regime, in part to avoid destabilizing its economy and seeing the U.S. military gain influence in a unified Korea.
The U.S. administration should increase sanctions on Chinese firms, individuals or banks that help North Korea evade its current set of sanctions, said Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "Sanctions remain the only peaceful way to protect the U.S. and its allies from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs," he said.
The United Nations Security Council has unanimously voted to tighten sanctions that targeted about a third of North Korea’s $3 billion in exports. Even so, Russia and China have been particularly cautious about prodding Kim too hard.
Russia called on North Korea to end its provocations, and nuclear tests are unacceptable, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview on Sunday in Xiamen.
“At the same time, we are still convinced that the problem of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula can be solved only through dialogue,” he said. “It is premature to talk about new sanctions against North Korea."
North Korea claimed beforehand it now had a more-developed hydrogen bomb it can mount on an intercontinental ballistic missile. It has a multi-functional thermonuclear weapon adjustable from tens of kiloton to hundreds of kiloton that can be detonated at high altitudes for an electromagnetic pulse attack, KCNA said.
The Nuclear Weapons Institute “recently succeeded in making a more developed nuke, true to the strategic intention of (its party) for bringing about a signal turn in nuclear weaponization,” KCNA said. Kim was quoted as saying that North Korea can now produce as many powerful nuclear weapons “as it wants.”
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