April 13, 2017 5:35 am JST

US to give diplomacy a chance in dealing with North Korea

Armed strike still a possibility, Washington informs Tokyo

Nuclear aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson © Kyodo

TOKYO -- The United States will try diplomacy first in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile threat but is willing to take military action if that approach fails, American officials have reportedly told the Japanese government. 

Japan and the U.S. have discussed the North Korean threat at all levels of government. President Donald Trump has said "all options are on the table." The administration says his comment conveys his commitment to move forward on the North Korean issue, but that a diplomatic solution is still preferable.

"His position is underpinned by a belief that a strong military is a necessity for strong diplomacy," a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said of Trump.

"The diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed," U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a trip to Japan in March. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush switched from pressure to dialogue but were unable to convince North Korea to abandon nuclear development. The policy of "strategic patience" by ex-President Barack Obama allowed Pyongyang more time to build up its nuclear and missile technologies.

In response to past failures, the Trump administration is taking a different approach by trying to draw China into the fold. Beijing had been reluctant to impose sanctions on North Korea in the past. But in February, it halted North Korean coal imports in accordance with sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. hopes that China will also tighten restrictions on crude oil exports to the North, as well as on companies that do business with it.

"There is no guarantee that China will take measures that are truly effective," said Ken Jimbo, an assistant professor at Japan's Keio University. "It wants to avoid a situation where North Korea is driven to the brink economically and takes extreme action, leading to a wave of refugees trying to enter China."

In addition to diplomatic efforts, the U.S. is turning up military pressure. It has dispatched a carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson to waters near the Korean Peninsula as a visible warning to the North.

Referred to as an "armada" by Trump, the strike group includes its flagship nuclear aircraft carrier, missile destroyers and other vessels. It is currently sailing north toward the Korean Peninsula. It is expected to be joined shortly be several ships from Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force for a joint drill, likely in the East China Sea or off the coast of the Japanese island of Kyushu.

There are significant hurdles to a potential American strike on North Korea, given the latter's nuclear arsenal. Cooperation from neighboring China will be essential should the U.S. decide to send troops into the rogue state.

"In addition to trilateral partnership with Japan and South Korea, the U.S. needs to negotiate a framework for wartime cooperation that includes China as well," Jimbo said.

Furthermore, Japan would need to evacuate its citizens from South Korea should armed conflict break out on the peninsula. "We are always making necessary preparations and considerations," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry has also issued a warning to Japanese travelers to pay attention to developments.

(Nikkei)

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