The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) — North Korea’s nuclear weapons development may be designed to take over archrival South Korea and coerce the United States into abandoning its close ally, a senior White House official said Tuesday, questioning the North’s stated purpose of warding off a U.S. invasion.
Ruminating about Pyongyang’s possible motivations, Matt Pottinger, the Asia director on President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, said there may be some truth to claims that the North wants a nuclear deterrent to protect its communist dictatorship. But Pottinger said the country’s robust conventional military has worked as a deterrent for decades.
Pottinger suggested other “disturbing” explanations for the North’s development of “an arsenal of the worst weapons in the world.”
“They have made no secret in conversations they have had with former American officials, for example, and others that they want to use these weapons as an instrument of blackmail to achieve other goals, even including perhaps coercive reunification of the Korean Peninsula one day,” Pottinger told a conference in Washington.
The North, he added, also wants to coerce the United States “to leave the peninsula and abandon our alliances.”
Pottinger’s comments at a panel discussion organized by Sasakawa USA, a group promoting U.S.-Japan relations, came a day after Trump opened the door to a future meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, offering unusual praise for the globally ostracized leader at a time of surging nuclear tensions.
The United States has sent warships to the region to deter North Korea from conducting another nuclear test to advance its weapons programs. The North’s nuclear and ballistic missile development already threatens South Korea and Japan, and within years could put the U.S. mainland within striking range. The North also has a formidable array of conventional artillery and rockets trained on the heavily populated South Korean capital.
Ousting Kim not goal
Echoing other Trump administration officials, Pottinger said the United States isn’t seeking regime change in North Korea. Rather, he said it wants an end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
“We really have no choice but to increase pressure on North Korea to diplomatically isolate them, to bring a greater economic pain to bear until they are willing to make concrete steps to start reducing that threat,” he said.
As its own deterrent, the United States retains 28,500 troops in South Korea and the Trump administration has at times warned of potential military confrontation if the North doesn’t change course. This week, a contentious U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea started operating, over Chinese opposition.
The U.S. strategy right now focuses on getting China to increase pressure on Pyongyang.
“This is a dramatic departure from the kind of approach to foreign policy and human rights that I admired Ronald Reagan so much for,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday.
Beijing urges contact
BEIJING (AP) — China urged the United States and North Korea on Tuesday to make contact “as soon as possible” and ease tensions amid rising belligerence from the two sides over the North’s nuclear weapons program.
The call for negotiations from China’s Foreign Ministry came after President Donald Trump opened the door to a possible future meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Trump told Bloomberg News during an interview that he would be honored to meet with Kim at an unspecified date “if it would be appropriate.”
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Washington and Pyongyang need to take concrete steps toward peace and avoid further escalating a crisis that has quickly spiraled into a top global security concern.
Against that backdrop, Geng said China has noted the more diplomatic messages sent by the Trump administration and considers them constructive.