NEW YORK – Working with China to solve the threat posed by North Korea would be a key priority if Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton becomes the next president of the United States, her senior policy adviser said recently.
“This is a paramount security challenge for the United States,” Jake Sullivan said at a recent Asia Society gathering where he outlined the policy objectives that could take shape. “It will have to be right at the top of the agenda for the next president to deal with.”
He added, “There is a possibility for the United States and China to cooperate on the North Korea issue effectively.”
His comments came as the isolated country continues to carry out nuclear tests and launch ballistic missiles, which it claims it has a right to do, in defiance of a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The latest resolution, adopted March 2 after weeks of hard negotiations led primarily by Washington and Beijing, appears not to have reined in North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions, with leader Kim Jong Un ordering more tests, which have included a submarine-launched ballistic missile and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
The moves not only pose direct threats to North Korea’s neighbors such as Japan but also endanger the United States, Sullivan said.
“It is hard for me to underscore how important it is that we place priority on this, that we place urgency behind this nuclear threat,” he said. Dealing with it would be “one of the first and most important pieces of business” that the next American president and China’s President Xi Jinping will have to address at their first summit.
Sullivan said that while Beijing and Washington have made progress in tackling the issue, more work is needed “to get us on the same page.”
“I do believe that we have not yet done enough, that there is more room to go on the pressure track,” he added.
He pointed to a deal that the United States and other world powers reached with Tehran to curb its nuclear programs in exchange for eased sanctions as a possible model.
“I think we have left things on the table with respect to doing the same thing to the North Korean regime,” said Sullivan, who was deeply involved in the negotiations with Tehran as a senior advisor to the U.S. government on the issue. It was through the world working together that the “concentrated” efforts yielded results, he said.
The adviser also stressed the continuing importance a Clinton presidency would place on its relationship with Japan.
One of the first things she would do “is reaffirm that the U.S.-Japan relationship is a cornerstone of U.S. policy towards the Asia-Pacific,” he said.
Calling it “central and crucial” to the U.S. strategy, he stressed that “making clear that we believe that a vibrant, revitalized, effective and modernized U.S.-Japan alliance is central to any strategy in the Asia-Pacific” is essential.
He also said that it is a “high priority” for the United States to schedule “early consultations” on how to move forward with Japan after the country in March passed legislation allowing it to exercise its right to collective self-defense, which it had previously refrained from doing under its pacifist Constitution.
Sullivan also took aim at the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, who has been outspoken on a range of foreign policy topics. Besides his views being “difficult to pin down,” some of his statements “make him a dangerous proposition” as a potential U.S. commander in chief, he said.
Of particular concern was Trump’s suggestion that more countries, including Japan and South Korea, may need to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. Sullivan said he fears that such views could spark a nuclear arms race and make it easier for terrorists to get their hands on nuclear materials.
The next president faces a host of challenges and must look beyond the next four years in crafting his or her foreign policy decisions, he said.
“The project of American foreign policy — not just over the next four years, but over the next 10 years — will be to update the rules of the road, the institutions of the Cold War in a way that reflects current realities,” he said, adding that these changes must “fundamentally protect and reflect American interests and realities.”
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