President Donald Trump departed Washington on Friday for his first visit to Asia, a 12-day swing through five countries that comes as the once unthinkable has become a palpable concern from Tokyo to Seoul to Beijing – a war with a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Trump’s escalating rhetoric and Pyongyang’s accelerating weapons programs have set the region on edge and prompted national security adviser H.R. McMaster to declare this week that the world is “running out of time” to stop the North.
“North Korea is a threat to the entire world,” McMaster told reporters at the White House.
Trump’s trip – with bilateral visits to Japan, South Korea and China and stops at regional summits in Vietnam and the Philippines – could go a long way toward determining the success of his administration’s policy. Aides said they are committed to applying “maximum pressure”on Pyongyang to head off its nuclear threat and resolve the situation peacefully.
Senior White House aides said Trump’s top priority on the longest overseas trip of any president since George H.W. Bush in 1991 will be to build on the initial success his administration has had in rallying international support for isolating North Korea. Responding to pressure from the United States, the United Nations Security Council approved two rounds of stiffer economic sanctions and a growing number of countries have severed diplomatic ties with Pyongyang and banished North Korean guest workers.
But beyond the sanctions and the silent treatment looms the very real prospect that none of these tactics – employed to varying degrees by previous administrations – will convince North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to veer from his pursuit of a nuclear weapon that can reliably reach the U.S. mainland – a goal analysts said would sharply tilt the leverage in his favor in any future negotiations.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · David Nakamura, Adam Taylor