US Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea Monday not to test Donald Trump’s resolve, declaring that “all options are on the table” in curbing its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
Defying international pressure, the North Sunday test-fired another missile as fears grow that it may be preparing for its sixth atomic weapons test.
“We hope to achieve this objective (the North’s denuclearisation) through peaceful means but all options are on the table,” Pence told a press conference in the South Korean capital after his trip to the tense border with the North.
“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan.
“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve, or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Pence said at the press conference with South Korea’s Acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn.
Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have soared in recent weeks, as a series of North Korean missile tests have prompted ever-more bellicose warnings from Trump’s administration.
The new and inexperienced US president has indicated he will not allow North Korea to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the western United States.
Pence declared that the era of US “strategic patience” in dealing with the North was over, after more than two decades.
North Korea “answered our overtures with wilful deception, broken promises and nuclear and missile tests”, he said.
The US, which stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, would “defeat any attack and we will meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective response”.
Pence’s trip earlier Monday to the Demilitarised Zone between the two Koreas — one of the most heavily fortified frontiers on the planet — underscored Washington’s changing policy towards the isolated state.
The visit came after a huge military parade Saturday during which North Korea showcased apparent intercontinental ballistic missiles, and as a US carrier group converges on the Korean peninsula.
It also came the day after North Korea’s latest launch — which failed when the missile blew up seconds after blast-off.
Speaking at the village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ, Pence said America’s relationship with South Korea was “ironclad and immutable”.
Pyongyang insists it needs a powerful arsenal — including atomic weapons — to protect itself from what it says is the ever-present threat of US invasion.
A top White House foreign policy adviser on Sunday became the latest Trump official to warn that while diplomatic pressure was preferable, US military action is very much on the table.
Pence urged the international community to join US and regional demands for an end to the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
“It is heartening to see China commit to these actions. But the United States is troubled by China’s economic retaliation against South Korea for taking appropriate steps to defend itself,” he said, referring to the US THAAD missile defence system.
The system being installed in South Korea is designed to shoot down missiles from North Korea or elsewhere. But China furiously objects to its deployment, saying it could spy on its own defence installations, and has taken apparent retaliatory action against South Korean firms operating in its country.
Pence said he and Trump “have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea”.
“But as President Trump made clear just a few short days ago, if China is unable to deal with North Korea, the United States and our allies will.”
This is Pence’s first visit to South Korea — part of an Asia swing that will also include stops in Japan, Indonesia and Australia — and although it was conceived months ago, could hardly come at a time of higher tension.