A day after North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, President Trump condemned its leader as a “sick puppy,” and his administration demanded all countries, including China, sever economic and diplomatic ties with the secretive regime in Pyongyang.
“Little Rocket Man … he is a sick puppy,” Trump said on Wednesday in the middle of a speech focused on the Republican tax-cut plan in Congress. The president had just described the GOP proposal as energizing the U.S. economy with “rocket fuel,” which apparently made him think of his Elton John-inspired moniker for Kim.
At an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting called in response to Tuesday’s missile test, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that North Korea’s actions had brought the world “closer to war.”
“And if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed,” said Haley, who pressed all nations to “cut off all ties with North Korea” in addition to implementing existing sanctions on the regime.
“All countries should sever diplomatic relations with North Korea and limit military, scientific, technical or commercial cooperation,” Haley told the council. “They must also cut off trade with the regime by stopping all imports and exports, and expel all North Korean workers.”
She also said that Trump had pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping during a telephone call earlier in the day to cut off oil supplies to North Korea.
“China can do this on its own, or we can take the oil situation into our own hands,” she said, without elaborating.
The Trump administration has notched several recent successes in its campaign to further isolate North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, notably a pair of 15-0 U.N. Security Council votes to tighten sanctions. Countries like Singapore and Sudan have promised to cut some economic ties. Even China, North Korea’s de facto patron and its largest export market, has reportedly curbed trade with the secretive Stalinist regime.
Washington has been studying what new sanctions it could impose, either unilaterally or cooperatively through a forum like the United Nations. At the same time, senior U.S. officials have refused to rule out using force.
It’s unclear what value, if any, Trump’s repeated insults have to his administration’s efforts to roll back North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. Kim’s regime in Pyongyang has repeatedly insulted him as well. A senior official on Wednesday called Trump an “old lunatic” and declared that the United States “should bear in mind that no force on Earth can check the advance of the DPRK,” as that country is known, according to the state-run news agency KCNA.
The schoolyard taunts came a day after North Korea defied escalating international pressure and tested an ICBM that, according to independent experts, could conceivably have reached Washington D.C. In response, Trump promised that the United States “will handle” Pyongyang and vowed to continue his efforts to isolate North Korea diplomatically and increase economic pressure on Kim’s regime.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, sitting near the president, said that the ICBM fired Tuesday “went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken” and told reporters that the launch showed that North Korea was determined to build missiles “that could threaten everywhere in the world, basically.”
It was unclear what prompted North Korea’s launch, which came a week after Trump announced that his administration was putting the regime in Pyongyang back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. At the time, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had noted the 60-day span since Kim had carried out a provocative act, adding: “We’re hopeful that he continues this quiet period. That’s our objective, is that he continue to be quiet.”
Top Trump aides have been saying since he took office in January that time is running out to find a diplomatic solution, suggesting that the White House believes that North Korea — unlike the Soviet Union or China — cannot be deterred and must instead be disarmed.
In July, North Korea fired two ICBMs potentially capable of reaching U.S. soil. In early August, news outlets reported that American intelligence confirmed a finding by Japan’s defense ministry that North Korea had likely developed warheads small enough to fit on its missiles.
But there are still many questions about Pyongyang’s capabilities — how reliable are its guidance systems? Has it devised reentry systems to ensure that its warheads would not burn up in the atmosphere?
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