Ahead of Asia Trip, White House Gives North Korea a Reprieve

McMaster: Sanctions need time, but U.S. ready to respond with ‘all capabilities‘

President Donald Trump meets with National security adviser H.R. McMaster and Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, last month in the Oval Office. (Courtesy White House/Wikimedia Commons)

The Trump administration is pumping the brakes on new steps against North Korea — military or otherwise — for “a few months” as recent sanctions are implemented, the president’s top national security aide said Thursday. 

Air Force One will be wheels up Friday for President Donald Trump’s 11-day diplomatic trip to Asia that will take him to a handful of friendly Asian countries, including South Korea, Japan and China. Each is a key player in the standoff with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over his atomic arsenal.

“The president recognizes that we’re running out of time” to strip Kim of his nuclear arms, said Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser.

“We’re out of time because approaches in the past have not delivered,” he added.

Trump is slated to deliver a major policy speech at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, and will “call on all nations to do more” to help solve the North Korea problem, McMaster said. One is China, North Korea’s leading trade partner and lone remaining close ally.

“China is definitely doing more” to pressure North Korea, McMaster said, six days before Trump is scheduled to land in Beijing for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “But it’s not enough until we achieve denuclearization.”

The president and his top aides often rattle the U.S. saber when it comes to North Korea, but they have at times said any coming offensive action would be at least months down the road. McMaster did just that Thursday, hours before Trump begins his trip to the region.

The national security adviser described recent new sanctions that were slapped on the isolated nation as the “end of the beginning” of Trump’s North Korea strategy. “We have to be a little patient, I think, for a few months to see what we can do, including China,” he said, referring to recent United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang.

The administration intends to “give it a few months and see what adjustments we might need to make,” he said.

But he also sent Kim a hawkish message on the eve of Trump’s first trip to the region as U.S. commander in chief.

“It’s time for a really concerted effort to do everything we all can to stop this, short of military action,” the three-star Army general told reporters. “The president doesn’t draw red lines. … What is clear is the United States will respond with all capabilities available to respond to North Korean aggression.”

McMaster conducted the daily White House press briefing, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders leaving as he wrapped up without taking questions. Other tidbits the general provided about the trip:

  • White House officials have yet to decide whether Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam, McMaster said. But he did not rule it out.
  • The Trump administration is considering adding North Korea back onto the state sponsors of terrorism list, but such a move likely won’t happen before Trump leaves Friday. “That is something that is under consideration,” McMaster said, telling reporters the administration will have more to say on the matter soon.
  • Asked if Trump will soften his often-tough rhetoric on North Korea, McMaster laughed while asking a reporter if she has noticed the president “modulating his language.” In a somewhat light moment, McMaster quippedto laughter: “Have you noticed him doing that?”

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