Even as North Korea signaled its preparations for war with the U.S. and its regional allies by conducting its “largest ever” live-fire artillery drills near the demilitarized zone, the Trump administration reached out to Congress to explain the “urgent national security threat” posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
Members of the U.S. Senate attended a rare hour-long secret briefing session at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House. President Trump made introductory remarks, with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, participating.
“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,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Director of Intelligence Dan Coats said in a joint statement after the briefing, reported the Washington Free Beacon.
Kim Jong-Un’s military conducted a “Combined Fire Demonstration” Tuesday that included large explosions from rockets and torpedoes fired at mock enemy vessels, and the firing of over 300 large-caliber artillery pieces. While the exercise was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s military, it served as a show of strength to the U.S., South Korea and Japan.
The North Korean leader saluted his military from a private car as he passed through the demonstration.
Adding to tensions on the peninsula, South Korea also conducted joint live-fire drills with the U.S. near the border. Seoul announced that key portions of a controversial U.S. missile-defense system has now been installed. A U.S. guided-missile submarine also docked in South Korea this week.
While the presence of Joint Chiefs’ Dunford suggests military options were discussed at today’s White House conference, information coming out of the session points to imposition of additional economic sanctions.
Mattis, Tillerson and Coats indicated Trump’s approach to denuclearizing North Korea is tighter economic and diplomatic measures.
The administration is considering “secondary sanctions” on North Korea meant to cut off supplies of missile and nuclear goods from places such as China and Russia.
A February report of U.N. experts found that debris from a 2016 North Korean missile tests contained Russian and Chinese parts.
Calling the session “very clear-eyed, sober and serious,” Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) said the Trump administration is focused on avoiding a conflict and “making it clear to China how serious we are about preventing North Korea from developing the capability to deliver a nuclear warhead by ICBM against the United States or one of our key allies, and that there are real efforts being made to avoid a misunderstanding or miscalculation because I do think this is a very dangerous circumstance and situation.”
Congress also heard from the chief of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, Wednesday, with a warning that North Korea presently poses a risk to Hawaii.
“Kim Jong-Un is clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today, in my opinion,” Harris told the House Armed Services Committee. “I have suggested that we consider putting interceptors in Hawaii that … defend (it) directly, and that we look at a defensive Hawaii radar.”
Currently, the U.S. has anti-missile interceptors installed at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the Central California coast and at Fort Greely, Alaska.
Calling the present anti-missile defense system “sufficient to protect Hawaii today,” he warned it could be “overwhelmed,” requiring decisions as to which missiles to take out and which to let through.
“North Korea vigorously pursued a strategic strike capability in 2016,” he said. “Kim’s strategic capabilities are not yet an existential threat to the U.S., but if left unchecked, he will gain the capability to match his rhetoric.”