Asia Pacific / Politics

As options on North Korea run out, U.S. may turn to Pentagon, U.N. envoy warns

Envoy to U.N., top Trump adviser say military action 'not empty threat'

Reuters, Bloomberg

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday the U.N. Security Council has run out of options on containing North Korea’s nuclear program and the United States may have to turn the matter over to the Pentagon.

“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we can do at the Security Council at this point,” Haley told CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that she was perfectly happy to hand the North Korea problem over to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

As world leaders head to the United Nations headquarters in New York for the annual General Assembly meeting this week, Haley’s comments indicated the United States was not backing down from its threat of military action against North Korea.

North Korea launched a missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday in defiance of new U.N. Security Council sanctions banning its textile exports and capping imports of crude oil.

China has urged the United States to refrain from making threats to North Korea. Asked about President Donald Trump’s warning last month that the North Korean threat to the United States will be met with “fire and fury,” Haley said, “It was not an empty threat.”

“If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies in any way, North Korea will be destroyed. And we all know that. And none of us want that. None of us want war,” she said on CNN.

“We’re trying every other possibility that we have, but there’s a whole lot of military options on the table,” she said.

Pyongyang has launched dozens of missiles as it accelerates a weapons program designed to provide the ability to target the U.S. with a powerful, nuclear-tipped missile.

North Korea said on Saturday it aimed to reach an “equilibrium” of military force with the United States.

Trump plans to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

“I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!” Trump said in a Twitter post on Sunday morning.

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Friday, after the latest North Korean missile launch, that the U.S. was running out of patience: “We’ve been kicking the can down the road, and we’re out of road.”

On Sunday, he warned of imminent danger from Pyongyang.

“This regime is so close now to threatening the United States and others with a nuclear weapon, that we really have to move with a great sense of urgency on sanctions, on diplomacy and preparing, if necessary, a military option,” McMaster told the “Fox News Sunday” program.

Military options available to Trump range from a sea blockade aimed at enforcing sanctions to cruise missile strikes on nuclear and missile facilities to a broader campaign aimed at overthrowing leader Kim Jong Un.

Mattis has warned the consequences of any military action would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale” and bring severe risk to U.S. ally South Korea.

Still, it appeared that Trump had dispatched Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to reiterate that U.S. seeks a peaceful resolution before the use of military force to end the nuclear standoff.

“If our diplomatic efforts fail, though, our military option will be the only one left,” Tillerson said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “But be clear: we seek a peaceful solution to this.”

The top U.S. diplomat made a rare appearance on a Sunday talk show, where he said the U.S. strategy is to pursue a “peaceful pressure campaign” based on what he called the four “nos”: not seeking either regime change or collapse in North Korea, an accelerated re-unification of the Korean Peninsula, or a reason to send in military forces.

Tillerson said on CBS that China, the principal supplier of oil to North Korea, can help exert pressure on Pyongyang by cutting off supplies, and that Russia can stop using 30,000 guest workers from the isolated nation who send their wages home, propping up the economy.

In an editorial published in The New York Times on Sunday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged the international community to remain united and enforce sanctions against North Korea, adding that Tokyo has responded to the North’s provocations “by reaffirming the ironclad Japan-United States alliance” and coordinating in “lock step” with the U.S. and South Korea.

“I firmly support the United States position that all options are on the table,” he wrote.

“Everyone aspires to a peaceful solution to these challenges,” Abe added. “And global solidarity is of utmost importance. Still, prioritizing diplomacy and emphasizing the importance of dialogue will not work with North Korea. History shows that concerted pressure by the entire international community is essential.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, meanwhile, said Sunday that Trump should not rule out talks with North Korea before it agrees to end its nuclear program.

“I think that North Korea is not going to give up its program with nothing on the table,” she said on CNN.

Feinstein said that a freeze of both its nuclear program and missile arsenal, rather than ending them, would be more palatable to North Korea and to China, which fears the U.S. goal is toppling Kim.

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