The Trump administration is preparing a range of options — including plans for military operations — to deal with North Korea and its nuclear arms and missile programs.
National security officials are crafting possible diplomatic, economic and military responses to deal with the Hermit Kingdom, a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday at the White House.
Trump has decided to pursue one course of action, what the official described as an “integrated effort.”
“What you’ve seen is a really integrated effort to prioritize diplomatic and informational aspects of national power,” the senior administration official said. “But also what you will see soon is using the economic dimension of national power, as well as the military preparations that are underway.”
The latter remark is perhaps the clearest indication yet that the new commander in chief is mulling whether he might have to, if all other options fail to disarm the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, use U.S. military force in an attempt to do so.
Trump has decided to pick and choose U.S. actions from a “broad range of options,” the senior official said. Which ones the president chooses — and when — will reflect “how the situation develops in the future.”
The official mentioned that just how the suddenly tense situation moves forward, and how successful allies — meaning: China — are in helping change Kim’s behavior will also play a role in the options Trump selects.
As for the military planning now underway, when pressed to elaborate, the official replied only: “I don’t think we’re going to describe those in any detail.”
As the senior official briefed reporters in the White House briefing room, senators were across West Executive Drive inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s auditorium receiving a briefing on North Korea from other senior Trump officials.
Senators returning from the White House briefing on North Korea declined to give details about the briefing, saying it was classified.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., described the briefing as productive.
“We had a good briefing in terms of laying out the maximum pressure by the White House and what steps we can expect,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. Gardner said the focus needs to be on pressuring the Chinese to address North Korea.
He said the president and Vice President were at the briefing, and the president gave an introduction.
Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Coons, D-Del., called it a “sobering meeting.”
Asked if the field trip to the White House for a briefing on North Korea was worthwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said, “I’m not sure,” without elaborating.
In a joint statement, Secretary of State Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats did not explicitly point to possible military action. But it was implied.
They described North Korea as an “urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority,” supplanting the Islamic State.
“The president’s approach aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners,” the trio said. But they also seemed to echo the official who briefed at the White House by not ruling anything out.
“The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” they wrote. “We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies.”
Meantime, the senior administration official also provided a glimpse behind the curtain of Trump’s recently shaken-up National Security Council.
NSC leaders now are focusing on big-picture strategy rather than “tactical details,” the senior administration official said. NSC leaders also are starting to frame some threats as “opportunities” so the administration can “advance toward those objectives,” the official added.
Megan Scully, Bridget Bowman and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.