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Apr. 17, 2017
 
 

Pence warns North Korea of U.S. resolve shown in Syria, Afghan strikes

 

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence put North Korea on notice on Monday, warning that recent U.S. military strikes in Syria and Afghanistan showed the resolve of President Donald Trump should not be tested.

Pence and South Korean acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn, speaking after a failed missile test by North Korea and a huge display of missiles in Pyongyang, said they would move ahead with the early deployment to South Korea of the U.S. THAAD missile-defence system, in spite of Chinese objections.

Pence was on the first stop of a four-nation Asia tour intended to show that the Trump administration is not turning its back on the increasingly volatile region.

"Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan," Pence said in an appearance with Hwang.

"North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region," Pence said.

The U.S. Navy this month struck a Syrian airfield with 59 Tomahawk missiles after a chemical weapons attack. On Thursday, the U.S. military dropped "the mother of all bombs", the largest non-nuclear device it has ever unleashed in combat, on caves and tunnels used by Islamic State in Afghanistan.

Korean tensions have escalated following repeated North Korean missile tests and concerns that Pyongyang may soon conduct a sixth nuclear bomb test in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

Pence, whose father served in the 1950-53 Korean War, visited the North-South border on Monday and said Washington would stand by its "iron-clad alliance" with South Korea.

"All options are on the table to achieve the objectives and ensure the stability of the people of this country," he told reporters as tinny propaganda music floated across from the North Korean side of the so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ).

At a White House Easter celebration, Trump was asked by a reporter if he had a message for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and replied: “Gotta behave.”



U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stands next to his daughter looking toward the north through a pair of binocular from an observation post inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

However in spite of the words, U.S. officials say the Trump administration is focusing on tougher economic sanctions in response to North Korea.

The United States worries about North Korea's efforts to develop a nuclear-topped missile that could hit the U.S. mainland.

Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said on Sunday that the United States, its allies and China were working on a range of responses to North Korea's latest missile test, citing what he called an international consensus to act.

McMaster indicated Trump was not considering military action for now, despite the sending to Korean waters of a carrier strike group led by the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson.

U.S. officials say tougher sanctions could include an oil embargo, a global ban on North Korea's airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang.

NO 'RED LINES'

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said China had taken some "very helpful" steps, although it remained to be seen how effective these would be.

Spicer, asked if Trump had a "red line" on North Korea, said the president did not believe these worked.

Trump himself, when asked if he was considering military action, told Fox News Channel that he didn't want to "telegraph" his plans like the previous administration.

"We’ll see what happens. I hope things work out well, but they’ve been talking with this gentleman for a long time," he said.

Senior North Korean officials on Monday reiterated recent warnings that the situation was "nearing the brink of war”.

Kim Song Gyong, director general of the European Department of the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang, told Reuters that if Washington made "the slightest movement" to make a nuclear strike on North Korea, Pyongyang would strike first and "destroy the aggressors without any mercy.”

Kim went on to clarify that the approach of the carrier strike force would not be considered enough to constitute “the slightest movement”.

North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-Ryol told the BBC that missiles would continue to be tested on "a weekly, monthly and yearly basis."

Pence is expected to discuss Korean tensions with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday when he travels to Tokyo for economic talks with Finance Minister Taro Aso. He will also visit Jakarta and Sydney.

China has appeared increasingly frustrated with its North Korean neighbor and ally, speaking out against its weapons tests and supporting U.N. sanctions, while repeatedly calling for talks.

Susan Thornton, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and China's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, agreed in a phone call on Sunday on the need for strict enforcement of U.N. resolutions and for international action to press Pyongyang "to cease provocative actions and recommit to peaceful denuclearization.”

Thornton said any new North Korean nuclear test "would draw a pretty significant international response".

"We’re definitely not seeking conflict or regime change,:" she said. "But we are committed to defending our people and our allies should it be necessary.”

China banned imports of North Korean coal, the country's most important export in February and Chinese media has raised the possibility of restricting oil shipments to the North.

However, Beijing says the crisis is one between the United States and North Korea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the situation was "highly sensitive, complicated and high risk" and all sides should "avoid taking provocative actions".