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World

Trump Rejects N. Korea Talks but Key Nations Split on Strategy

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against cornering Pyongyang

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, in Washington, photo: AP/Evan Vucci
2 weeks ago

WASHINGTON — In a flurry of phone calls with world leaders, President Donald Trump took a tough line against negotiating with North Korea as the communist country’s latest nuclear test exposed stark differences among international leaders for containing the threat. Meanwhile, Trump’s military, diplomacy and intelligence chiefs briefed Congress on his strategy Wednesday.

 

Trump stressed “now is not the time to talk to North Korea,” according to a White House description of his telephone call with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday. He said the U.S. was considering all options to defend itself and allies. The readout was released shortly before Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose support is critical if the U.N. is to tighten sanctions on North Korea, including possibly restricting oil sales.

“We had a very good phone call. It lasted for a long time,” Trump said of his talks with the Chinese leader. “President Xi would like to do something. We’ll see whether or not he can do it. But we will not be putting up with what’s happening in North Korea. I believe that President Xi agrees with me 100 percent. He doesn’t want to see what’s happening there, either.”

Asked if he was considering military action against North Korea, Trump told reporters: “Certainly that’s not our first choice, but we will see what happens.”

A statement posted on state broadcaster China Central Television’s website described Xi telling Trump that China is committed to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. But Xi stressed the solution must come through dialogue and peaceful means.

Trump also discussed North Korea’s purported hydrogen bomb test with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The weekend explosion was Pyongyang’s strongest-ever nuclear test and follows launches in July of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the U.S. mainland. Trump and Turnbull “confirmed that their two countries will intensify joint efforts to denuclearize North Korea.”

While Trump consulted his international counterparts, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats were holding closed-door briefings with House and Senate members on the North Korean threat.

 

As the Trump administration looked for partners to increase the North’s economic and diplomatic pressure, Russian President Vladimir Putin was pushing in the opposite direction. He warned against cornering Pyongyang. That sentiment is likely shared by Beijing, which fears a North Korean collapse on its border.

The North’s nuclear test “flagrantly violates” international law, Putin said. But he urged talks with North Korea, saying sanctions aren’t a solution.

Speaking after a meeting Wednesday with the president of close U.S. ally, South Korea, Putin urged support for a Russian-Chinese roadmap that seeks a North Korean nuclear freeze in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea curbing military drills. Washington rejects the proposal; Putin insisted it “offers a genuine way to defuse the tensions and a step-by-step settlement.”

“We should not give in to emotions and push Pyongyang into a corner,” Putin said. “As never before everyone should show restraint and refrain from steps leading to escalation and tensions.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged Russia to back stronger sanctions on the North, including an oil cutoff, but Putin worried that such moves would hurt North Korea’s people, said Yoon Young-chan, Moon’s chief press secretary. Moon also called for a ban on overseas North Korean workers — many of them in China and Russia — who provide foreign currency to the North.

 

Moon, a liberal who took office in May, initially advocated a diplomatic approach on North Korea. His government has taken a harder stance as the North continued its torrid pace of weapons tests. Speaking to Russian news agency TASS on Tuesday, Moon said he believes now is not the time for talks and that the international community must increase the pressure on North Korea.

Illustrating the country’s hardening sentiment, South Korea says the U.S. military will begin adding more launchers to a contentious high-tech U.S. missile defense system in South Korea on Thursday. Although focused on deterring North Korea, China and Russia see the system as harmful to their security interests.

MATTHEW PENNINGTON

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