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Donald Trump warns North Korea over missile test: 'All options are on the table'

Pyongyang 'has signalled its contempt for its neighbours,' US President says

Jon Sharman
Tuesday 29 August 2017 13:36 BST
World reacts to North Korea's latest missile launch

Donald Trump has issued his first statement in response to an unprecedented North Korea missile test over one of Japan's main islands, warning it that "all options are on the table" for a US response.

"The world has received North Korea’s latest message loud and clear. This regime has signalled its contempt for its neighbours, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable international behaviour," Mr Trump said, in a statement issued by the White House.

"Threatening and destabilising actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world."

North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan's northern Hokkaido region on Tuesday, prompting air-raid sirens and mobile phone alerts for citizens. The projectile, thought to be a Hwasong-12, is designed to carry a nuclear payload and is shown below in an infographic, created for The Independent by statistics agency Statista.

Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, called it an "unprecedented, serious and grave threat" to the region. He and Mr Trump spoke by phone for some 40 minutes on Tuesday morning, and were in "total agreement" they would push the UN Security Council to exert more pressure on Pyongyang, he added.

Han Tae-song, the North's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, defended his country's right to test missiles and warned the US of "catastrophic consequences" should it continue the war of words that has simmered in recent months.

Washington was driving the Korean peninsula "towards an extreme level of explosion" by deploying its strategic assets there, he added.

The US has been holding joint war games with South Korea, which also tested its own missiles last week. Hours after Pyongyang's launch, its 13th so far this year, the South Korean military carried out a test bombing at a firing range near its border with North Korea.

This infographic, created for The Independent by statistics agency Statista, shows the types of missile North Korea possesses (Statista/The Independent)

Mr Trump has previously warned North Korea it faces "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if it continues to menace the US and allied countries. The American military is "locked and loaded," he said earlier this month.

He and Kim Jong-un have slung fierce rhetoric back and forth for several months, with Mr Kim recently threatening a strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam. The island is home to 160,000 people and a substantial military base.

On Tuesday morning China, North Korea's sole major ally, urged restraint on all sides and called for diplomatic talks. Beijing said sanctions and other pressure could not solve the problem of North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump, his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have all previously signalled their desire for talks with the North.

Russia said it wanted the North to show restraint and avoid any new provocative actions, while calling on the US and its allies to refrain from any military escalation.

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, condemned North Korea's actions. He said: "The launch undermines regional security and stability and efforts to create space for dialogue."

Last week Mr Trump appeared to suggest his tough stance against North Korea's provocations was paying off.

He told supporters at a campaign style rally in Phoenix, Arizona: "I respect the fact that [Mr Kim] is starting to respect us. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—something positive can come about."

But just days later, Pyongyang launched three short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan.

Mr Tillerson called that launch a "provocative act" but said the US would "continue our peaceful pressure campaign ... working with allies, working with China as well to see if we can bring the regime in Pyongyang to the negotiating table".

What are the ranges of North Korea's missiles?

A US congressman visiting Seoul said Washington was now pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions by shutting down the impoverished country's access to hard currency, the lifeblood of its expensive weapons program.

The goal is to offer international banks that do business with Pyongyang a choice between bankruptcy and freezing North Korean accounts, Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said.

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, told CNN there was still room for a tougher use of sanctions.

He said: "Recently we've had the UN imposing stronger sanctions against North Korea, moving from really targeted financial measures directed at specific violators, towards broader economic sanctions, such as we saw with Iran that led to the Iran nuclear deal.

"The UN recently banned the export of many of North Korea's key resources, including coal. The next step may be banning the export of oil to North Korea."

John Nilsson-Wright, a senior research fellow at Chatham House's Asia programme, told The Independent diplomatic talks would "probably not" take place in the short term, and added: "I think it is in Pyongyang's interest to keep testing."

Continued tests signalled the regime's "autonomy" as well as providing propaganda and technical benefits, he said, while finally gaining a credible long-range arsenal would provide Mr Kim leverage to focus on economic growth—potentially using it as a bargaining chip to weaken sanctions.

A sixth nuclear test is "a question of 'when', rather than 'whether'", he said. "Kim seems to have taken the measure of Trump and decided his bluster is that—bluster."

In 90 seconds: North Korea and Kim Jong-Un

But he added: "I don't think it's ever too late to lay out to North Korea what they would stand to gain politically, diplomatically and economically if they started to behave like a more reasonable international actor.

"There will need to be talks. Trump should find ways, I think, of trying to expand the options for that sort of dialogue, while at the same time being careful not to overpromise what he can do in the military field."

It may mean "talks about talks", discussion, alongside the US' regional allies, of a peace treaty, and an eventual reduction in the number of US conventional armed forces stationed in the area.

The potential for a liaison mission and the dispatch of a high-level envoy like former President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang should also be explored, Dr Nilsson-Wright said.

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