The Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — North Korea’s latest volley of missile tests put new pressure on a preoccupied Trump administration Monday to identify how it will counter leader Kim Jong Un’s weapons development.
North Korea’s march toward having a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland is among the pressing national security priorities President Donald Trump faces. He has vowed it “won’t happen” but has yet to articulate a strategy to stop it.
A wide array of options are on the table, but aggressive behavior by Pyongyang in response to U.S.-South Korean military drills that began last week could further shrink chances for diplomatic engagement.
Upheaval in the administration has added to uncertainty in foreign capitals about how Trump’s “America First” mantra will translate into foreign policy, and how a new president with no prior experience in government might handle a security crisis.
An administration official told the AP on Monday that tougher sanctions, military action and resumption of long-stalled negotiations with North Korea are all under consideration as part of a policy review to provide options for the president within weeks.
The official, who demanded anonymity to discuss the private deliberations, did not anticipate an immediate U.S. response to the North’s test-firing of four banned ballistic missiles Monday that South Korean and Japanese officials said flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). Three of the missiles landed in waters that Japan, a close U.S. ally, claims as its exclusive economic zone.
North Korea typically reacts during the annual military drills that it considers an invasion rehearsal, although Washington and Seoul say they are routine.
‘More to come’
This year’s response could be more heated than usual. Victor Cha, a former White House adviser on Asia, said North Korea tends to up the tempo of missile tests during the drills when relations with the U.S. are bad. And next week, the drills shift from table-top exercises to military maneuvers.
“I think there are more tests coming,” Cha said.
The U.S. and Japan have requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the latest missile launches. The meeting is likely to take place Wednesday, a U.N. diplomat said, demanding anonymity to speak before the official announcement.
Pyongyang cites joint drills
North Korea, meanwhile, urged the council to discuss the U.S.-South Korea exercises, asserting the drills are driving the region toward “nuclear disaster.”
Ri Song Chol, counselor at North Korea’s U.N. mission, told AP that supreme leader Kim Jong Un has said as long as there are “military exercises in front of the gate of my country,” the North will continue to strengthen its military forces and “pre-emptive attack capabilities.”
Over the seven weeks of last year’s exercises, North Korea conducted nine missile tests, including of submarine-based and intermediate range missiles, but never more than two missiles at once. Five of the tests failed.
Cha said that Trump’s hand could be forced by North Korea’s provocative actions. The Obama administration relied heavily on sanctions, but the moves failed to stop Pyongyang.
“Right now they don’t have any choice. I mean they’ve already had two sets of missile tests and then the use of a chemical weapon in an airport,” Cha said.