The U.S. special envoy for North Korea has said that while Washington was keeping all options on the table, he did not believe the United States was close to using military action to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile ambitions.
“Our policy is very much for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis. We’ve said over and over again that what we want to see is dialogue,” Joseph Yun said at a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday evening.
“Having said that, we also have said … that all options are on the table and by all options, it has to include military options,” he said. “But … I don’t believe we are close to it.”
Yun’s remarks came a day after Victor Cha, a White House official during the George W. Bush administration who had been tipped to be the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea, was dropped from consideration after reportedly expressing concern in a December meeting about a plan to warn Pyongyang through a narrow military strike known as a “bloody nose” option.
A senior government source said that while the option remained on the table, “we recognize that the amount of disruption, chaos and disaster that would entail by any military option make it very difficult to exercise. The bloody nose option is not something that we have put on the table as a serious policy tool.”
On Tuesday in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump lambasted the “cruel dictatorship in North Korea” for several minutes in his first State of the Union address, but failed to mention any diplomatic tack with the nuclear-armed country.
This, coupled with Trump’s fiery rhetoric and personal insults directed at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, have raised questions over how serious his administration is about pursuing diplomacy with Pyongyang.
Despite the growing questions about Trump’s commitment to diplomacy, Yun said “there should be no confusion that the U.S. is completely committed to peacefully resolving” the crisis.
“We’ve said many, many times over and over again diplomacy is very much preferred — way more preferred — than any other option,” Yun said.
But he noted that this went beyond merely talking, and also included what he called “peaceful pressure.”
Asked if denuclearization was a prerequisite for even starting talks with North Korea, Yun reiterated Washington’s long-held stance.
“We should all face the reality, which is that these talks, if there are engagement and talks, have to be about denuclearization, they have to be about steps that North Korea would take toward denuclearization,” he said. “That is the basis for any real engagement with North Korea.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking at a meeting of the Diet’s Lower House Budget Committee on Friday, called the idea of acknowledging even some of the North’s nuclear development “a big mistake.”
Pyongyang has vowed never to give up its nuclear weapons as long as Washington and its allies continue their “blackmail and war drills” on its doorstep.
At the Thursday’s news conference, Yun also played down earlier statements that an extended lull in missile tests could lead to dialogue between the two countries.
“North Korea stopping nuclear and missile tests would be a great first step,” he said. But “I don’t think it’s so important, 60 days, 90 days, 30 days.
“Diplomacy is not conducted with smoke signals,” Yun said. North Korea “has to tell us” when they are suspending missile or nuclear tests for the purpose of opening diplomatic channels.
“So for them to go through a period of time without telling us, that’s … meaningless,” Yun said. “Communication channels are open, so there’s no problem in telling us their intent. That’s the key,” he added.
Yun and his superior, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, had in recent months appeared to tout a 60-day hiatus as a possible sign that the North was open to diplomacy.
North Korea broke a stretch on Nov. 29 of more than 70 days without testing a missile, but has not tested a missile since — a streak of 64 days that is expected to continue at least through the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in South Korea, which wrap up in mid-March.
The Trump administration has led a campaign known as “maximum pressure” that has seen Pyongyang slapped with the strongest U.N. and unilateral sanctions to date and has prompted a number of countries to join the U.S. in isolating the North diplomatically and politically. The pressure campaign has also seen the U.S. deploy a number of so-called strategic assets to the region, including powerful stealth bombers, aircraft carriers and submarines.
The North conducted a spate of missile launches last year, as well as its most powerful nuclear blast to date, culminating in the successful Nov. 29 long-range missile test that Kim said had completed the “state nuclear force.”