(NationalSentinel) War: President Donald J. Trump sent the clearest signal last night – to everyone with a stake in the escalating situation with North Korea – that the United States is prepared to take military action against Pyongyang, in a bid to destroy its maturing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
In an interview with Reuters, Trump made two things crystal clear: That he wanted to avoid any military confrontation if at all possible, but that if forced into action, he was prepared to give the order to U.S. forces in the region to strike the Hermit Kingdom.
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump told Reuters in the Oval Office.
As Trump approaches his first 100 days in office, clearly the most challenging foreign policy issue has been North Korea – which is precisely what outgoing President Barack Obama told him would be the case.
“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” he said.
Trump was effusive in his praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he met at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida earlier this month to discuss trade…and North Korea.
According to various reports, the Chinese government – Pyongyang’s only true ally – has been doing all it can to convince its belligerent neighbor to cease and desist its nuclear and ICBM development, but at every turn North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been defiant and uncooperative.
Russia, too, has attempted to convince the North Korean leader that continuing down his path would lead to a confrontation there was no way he could win – nuclear threats or not.
“I believe he is trying very hard,” Trump said of Xi. “He certainly doesn’t want to see turmoil and death. He doesn’t want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well.
“With that being said, he loves China and he loves the people of China. I know he would like to be able to do something, perhaps it’s possible that he can’t,” Trump said, owing to the fact that even China has only limited influence with its neighbor.
Another indication of Trump’s resolve: He rebuffed an offer of another phone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, so as not to anger or upset Xi, whom he needs on board to help deal with Pyongyang; China considers Taiwan a renegade province and Chinese leaders were upset when Trump took a congratulatory call from Tsai after he won the November election.
Speaking of nuclear threats, it’s very possible that’s all they are at this point – threats. Though North Korea has conducted five nuclear weapons tests and is believed to possess as many as eight more devices, it isn’t clear that Kim is prepared to use them or can use them.
A separate report in The Sun noted that North Korea appears to be frantically attempting to convince other countries in Southeast Asia to come to its aid:
North Korea has appealed to Southeast Asian countries for support in its row with the United States to prevent what it warned could be a “nuclear holocaust”.
In a letter to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ secretary-general, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho warned the situation on the Korean Peninsula was “reaching the brink of war” because of Washington’s actions.
He urged the ASEAN chief to inform the 10-nation organisation’s foreign ministers “about the grave situation” on the peninsula “and give them a proper proposal”, while criticising at length US-South Korean military exercises.
“I express my expectations that ASEAN which attaches great importance to the regional peace and stability will make an issue of the US-South Korean joint military exercises at ASEAN conferences from the fair position and play an active role in safeguarding the peace and safety of Korean Peninsula,” the letter said, Agence France Press reported.
Diplomatically speaking, this is North Korea appealing to ASEAN nations to intervene on its behalf, should war break out.
This isn’t even remotely a possibility. ASEAN nations include Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand, among others. Most are nominal allies of the West or outright allies.
Also, other countries in the region are clearly worried about the North’s developing nuclear program, but are not convinced yet that it’s operational.
“There is the possibility and the risk that North Korea could launch an attack on its neighbors,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a local media interview Thursday.
“That is the reason why there is so much effort being put into seeking to stop this reckless and dangerous conduct by the North Korean regime,” he said.
“They are a real threat to the peace and stability in the region and the whole world.”
When pushed on the possibility that the world was headed for nuclear war, Mr Turnbull said how other countries responded if North Korea carried out a nuclear attack would “depend on events”.
“At this stage, obviously, they’ve not carried out those threats,” he said.
“Their threats can appear to be theatrical and over the top and the subject of satire but I can assure you my government takes the threat of North Korea very, very seriously.”
Asked if he thought Kim was rational, Trump gave his adversary a little wiggle room:
“He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age. I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational.”
Trump has laid down the gauntlet – but he has also left Kim with a way out. That said, the clock is clearing ticking, and at some point in the not to distant future, it will run out. Trump – along with the Chinese, the Russians and most U.S. allies – have decided they can no longer afford to sit back and allow an unpredictable regime to continue developing the most destructive weapons on earth.
Unlike previous American administrations, Trump won’t kick this can down the road.