U.S. says strategy on North Korea centers on sanctions, open to talks | Reuters

By Phil Stewart and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON The Trump administration said on Wednesday it aimed to push North Korea into dismantling its nuclear and missile programs through tougher international sanctions and diplomatic pressure, and remained open to negotiations to bring this about.

The U.S. stance, which appeared to signal a willingness to exhaust non-military options in spite of repeated warnings that “all options are on the table,” came in a statement following an unusual White House-hosted briefing for the entire Senate.

The statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats described North Korea as “an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority”.

Graphic – Carl Vinson strike group: tmsnrt.rs/2pqOMWA

Graphic – North Korea’s nuclear program: tmsnrt.rs/2n0gd92

North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile, a capability experts say it could have some time after 2020.

“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,” it said.

“The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies.”

U.S. lawmakers have been seeking a clear White House strategy following repeated North Korean missile tests and fears that it could conduct a sixth nuclear bomb test.

While the administration has said repeatedly that military strikes remain an option, officials have stressed tougher sanctions given the risks of massive North Korean retaliation.

Democratic Senator Christopher Coons told reporters after the White House briefing that military options were discussed.

“It was a sobering briefing in which it was clear just how much thought and planning was going into preparing military options, if called for, and a diplomatic strategy that strikes me as clear-eyed and well proportioned,” Coons said.

Tillerson will chair a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that is expected to discuss tougher steps, which U.S. officials say could include an oil embargo, banning North Korea’s airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese and other foreign banks doing business with Pyongyang.

However to be effective, such steps will require the full support of China, North Korea’s neighbor and only ally.

China objects to North Korea’s weapons development, and has called repeatedly for a return to international negotiations, but U.S. officials have said…

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