U.S. President Donald Trump doubled down Tuesday in the United States’ standoff with nuclear-armed North Korea, reiterating that “all options” — an allusion to military action — remain on the table after Pyongyang launched a midrange missile over its close Asian ally Japan.
“Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world,” Trump said in a statement. “All options are on the table.”
The U.S. leader made the remarks after the North test-fired a ballistic missile over Hokkaido early on Tuesday morning, the first unannounced launch of a missile designed to carry a nuclear payload to fly over Japan.
The missile’s launch, which stoked concern in Tokyo after flying for some 2,700 km and landing in the Pacific Ocean about 1,200 km east of Hokkaido, comes amid North Korea’s ramped-up pace of missile tests, including 17 known test-firings this year, according to data compiled by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies North Korea Missile Test Database .
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe blasted the act as an “unprecedented, grave and serious” threat.
Abe was echoed by Trump in his initial response to the launch.
“The world has received North Korea’s latest message loud and clear: the regime has signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations and for minimal standards of acceptable behavior.”
Earlier Tuesday, Abe and Trump discussed the latest provocation during a 40-minute phone call. The two leaders agreed that the latest launch makes it clear that now is not the right time for dialogue and that increased pressure is necessary, a high-ranking Japanese government official said.
Abe also quoted Trump as saying the U.S. “stands behind Japan 100 percent” and reaffirmed its “strong commitment” to defending the nation.
The Japan-U.S. security treaty obliges the U.S. to jointly defend Japan if the country is attacked by a third nation, while Tokyo is obliged to allow Washington to use bases for the U.S. military in Japan.
The statement that “all options are on the table” is seen as implying that military action remains an option for resolving the nuclear standoff despite recent signs that the White House has shifted its focus from “fire and fury” to a return to dialogue.
But military action to remove North Korean leader Kim Jong Un or strike nuclear and missile sites will likely trigger a conflict that U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said would be “catastrophic.”
The North conducted two successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile in July — including one that experts say potentially puts Chicago and Los Angeles within range. Trump vowed earlier this month to rain down “fire and fury” on Pyongyang if it endangered the United States.
Kim had also threatened Washington and Tokyo earlier this month with a plan to send missiles into the waters surrounding of the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. According to that plan, which Kim later backed off, the missiles would have flown over Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures.
The North’s latest test came weeks after the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose tough new sanctions against the Kim regime, and was its fourth missile launched in four days, after it fired three short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan last Saturday to end a nearly monthlong hiatus in such test-firings.