North Korea tensions: Trump ‘prepared for the worst’; sanctions bill primed
President Trump is entering the next phase of his administration vowing to confront the crisis with North Korea – saying in an interview that “we have to be prepared for the worst,” as Congress moves on a separate front to apply new sanctions.
“We have to be prepared to do what we have to do. We cannot allow this to go on,” Trump said.
In a separate interview, Trump declined to rule out military action. And his National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told “Fox News Sunday” that it’s “important for all of us to confront this regime.”
Meanwhile the Trump administration, Congress and the international community continue to consider multiple options, however, for cooling the tensions with North Korea, not the least of which is Trump’s bid to court China to exert pressure on Pyongyang.
On Capitol Hill, the House plans to debate and vote on a new North Korea sanctions bill Monday night. The new push would target its shipping industry and those who employ North Korean slave labor abroad.
With international support, the Trump administration said last week it wants to exert a “burst” of economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea that yields results within months to push the communist government to change course from developing nuclear weapons.
Susan Thornton, the acting top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said there’s debate about whether Pyongyang is willing to give up its weapons programs. She said the U.S. wants “to test that hypothesis to the maximum extent we can” for a peaceful resolution.
But signaling that military action remains possible, Thornton told an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — the Washington think tank has advocated tougher U.S. policies on Iran and North Korea — that the administration treats North Korea as its primary security challenge and is serious that “all options are on the table.”
“We are not seeking regime change and our preference is to resolve this problem peacefully,” Thornton said, “but we are not leaving anything off the table.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a similar stand in the Fox News interview Thursday, saying: “We do not seek regime change in North Korea. … What we are seeking is the same thing China has said they seek — a full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
In a separate interview with National Public Radio, Tillerson said the U.S. remains open to holding direct negotiations with North Korea. Multi-nation negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program stalled in 2008. The Obama administration attempted to resurrect them in 2012, but a deal to provide food aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze soon collapsed.
As Trump tries to settle the North Korea situation, he continues to work to enact his domestic policy agenda — with a lengthy to-do list remaining.
Most immediately, a senior White House official told Fox News they could see a vote on a new ObamaCare replacement plan on Wednesday, claiming it’s down to a handful of votes.
Capitol Hill sources did not rule out Wednesday, but suggested Thursday is more likely provided they can corral the votes.
“As long as things stay where they are with the vote count,” one source said.
House Republicans were unable to advance an initial version of their health care bill in March, forced to pull it from the floor in the face of resistance from conservatives and Democrats alike. Amid the push to pass a revised package, Republican and Democratic lawmakers claim to have reached agreement on a separate must-pass spending package ahead of a Friday deadline.
The $1 trillion-plus measure does not include some of Trump’s cornerstone promises, including funding for a border wall or funding cuts to sanctuary cities, but could help clear the docket so Congress can concentrate on health care.