Trump's trashing of Iran deal poses problems for NK strategy

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — President Donald Trump's threat before the world to obliterate North Korea left no doubt about his determination to stop the communist country's nuclear weapons buildup. His disparagement of the Iran nuclear deal in the same speech offered Pyongyang little hope of a negotiated solution.

In his maiden address at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump spelled out in blunt and personal terms the reasons why Kim Jong Un and his government should be treated as pariahs. It was a surprisingly brutal indictment, even by the standards of a president who has spoken about unleashing "fire and fury" on Kim's country if it didn't end its nuclear provocations.

Trump said not only has the North Korean government starved its citizens and killed opponents, it was now threatening the world with "unthinkable loss of life."

"It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future," Trump said.

He offered no path toward making that future a reality.

Despite Trump's rhetoric, his administration insists it is seeking a diplomatic resolution. Any military intervention designed to eliminate the North's nuclear and missile arsenal would almost surely entail dire risks for U.S. allies in the region, particularly South Korea, lying in range of the North's vast stockpiles of weaponry.

Asked about Trump's address, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reiterated his preference Tuesday.

"We will hopefully get this resolved through diplomatic means," Mattis told reporters in Washington.

But other than using economic pressure to try to compel Pyongyang to give away its nuclear weapons — a strategy that has failed for the past decade — Trump's administration has yet to lay out a strategy for a possible negotiated settlement. In recent weeks, the administration's lack of direction has been all too apparent, as Trump and other top officials have vacillated between bellicose talk of possible military action and, at one point, even praise for Kim for a brief lull in missile tests.

"In the absence of such a policy roadmap, the president's words won't change North Korea's behavior," said Frank Jannuzi, an East Asia expert and president of the Washington-based Mansfield Foundation. "Nor will they bolster Chinese, Russian or allied confidence in the U.S. approach."

Fears of a military confrontation are increasing. North Korea conducted a series of provocative launches in recent months, including a pair of intercontinental missiles believed capable of striking the continental United States and another pair that soared over Japanese territory. It also exploded its most powerful nuclear bomb to date. Prodded by Washington, the U.N. has responded with the toughest economic sanctions on North Korea yet.

Still, the impasse is no closer to being resolved. Russia and China, which backed the new sanctions, want the U.S. to seek dialogue with the North. American officials say the time isn't right for any formal diplomatic process.

Instead, Trump has escalated the name calling. On Tuesday, he derisively referred to Kim as a "Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission."

Trump also made a direct comparison between the "reckless regimes" in Pyongyang and Tehran, which rolled back its nuclear program only two years ago.

The comparison could reinforce Kim's view that he needs nuclear-armed, intercontinental ballistic missiles to deter the U.S. from attacking him, according to Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"Denouncing a deal that all other parties are upholding will certainly not make the North Koreans any more disposed toward striking a deal with the United States over their nuclear program," he said.

Trump called the Iran deal one-sided and "an embarrassment to the United States." His comments heightened anticipation that Trump might declare Iran in violation of the seven-nation agreement, and even destroy it entirely, despite a U.N. report this month showing Iran was living up to its end of the bargain.

The Obama administration, which forged the Iran deal, never lost an opportunity to point out how it showed Washington was willing to reach a deal with an adversary prepared to negotiate in good faith. It often made that argument explicitly when talking about North Korea.

Pyongyang may be completely uninterested.

The North has virtually closed the door to a diplomatic resolution, said Evans Revere, a former senior State Department official who participated in unofficial talks with North Korean officials in Switzerland this month. "Defiance and confrontation, not dialogue, seem to be at the center of Pyongyang's thinking these days," he said. "That's a dangerous place to be."

Nevertheless, U.S. allies don't want Trump to close off the possibility of a peaceful end to the crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday rejected Donald Trump's threatening approach. She offered to help negotiate a solution similar to that reached with Iran.

"I think we must take the same path or a similar one, with Russia, with China, together with the US, also in the case of North Korea," she told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Speaking shortly before Trump at the U.N. on Tuesday, the world body's secretary-general urged diplomacy.

"Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings," Antonio Guterres said. "This is a time for statesmanship. We must not sleepwalk our way into war."

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Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.


Trump's North Korea threat leaves Asia struggling to explain

Sep 20, 2017 6:17AM (GMT-04:00) - 1017 words

By FOSTER KLUG ,  Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Was it a bluff? A warning that Washington would shoot down North Korea's next missile test? A restatement of past policy? Or simply just what it seemed: a straightforward threat of annihilation from the president of the United States?

Officials and pundits across Asia struggled Wednesday to parse Donald Trump's vow Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly to "totally destroy North Korea" if provoked.

In a region well used to Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons generating a seemingly never-ending cycle of threats and counter-threats, Trump's comments stood out.

South Korea officially played them down, while some politicians worried that Trump's words signaled a loss of influence for Seoul. Tokyo focused on his mention of Japanese citizens abducted by the North. Analysts across Asia expressed surprise, worry, even wry amusement, in one case, that Trump's words seemed to mirror threats normally emanating from North Korean state media.

Amid the speculation, the focus of Trump's belligerence, North Korea, remained silent in the hours after the speech.

Officials from the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who has advocated dialogue with the North while being forced into a hawkish position by the North's weapons tests, called Trump's words a signal of Washington's strong resolve to deal with the North, but also essentially a repetition of the basic stance that all options will be considered when confronting Pyongyang.

Trump has previously threatened the North with "fire and fury." Pyongyang responded to those past remarks with a string of weapons tests, including its sixth and most powerful nuclear detonation and two missiles that flew over U.S. ally Japan.

Park Soo-hyun, a Moon spokesman, said that Trump's comments "reaffirmed the need to put maximum sanctions and pressure against North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations" so that Pyongyang realizes that abandoning its nuclear weapons is the only way forward.

Marcus Noland, a North Korea specialist with the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said in an online post that Trump's threat will feed a long-standing North Korean narrative that claims that the United States poses an existential threat.

"With those words, President Trump handed the Kim regime the soundbite of the century. It will play on a continuous loop on North Korean national television," Noland wrote.

North Korea's regular weapons tests are an attempt to create an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can threaten U.S. troops throughout Asia and the U.S. mainland. Pyongyang tested its first two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July and claims that it can now accurately reach the U.S. homeland, though outside experts say the North may still need more tests before its weapons are fully viable. Each new test pushes the nation that much closer to that goal.

Some South Korean opposition politicians saw the comments as another sign that South Korea is losing its voice in international efforts to deal with the North's nuclear program.

Trump's U.N. speech came days after U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis created unease in South Korea by saying without elaboration that the United States has military options against North Korea that wouldn't involve the destruction of Seoul. The South Korean capital is within easy artillery range of the huge array of North Korean weapons dug in along a border only an hour's drive from greater Seoul's 25 million people.

Kim Su-min, a lawmaker in the People's Party, expressed worry that South Korean officials heard nothing from Washington before both Mattis' and Trump's remarks.

"The government should comprehensively review its diplomatic and national security system and do its absolute best so that our stance on critical issues related to the existence of our country and the lives of our people doesn't go ignored," Kim said.

Diplomacy meant to rid the North of its nukes has been moribund for years, and Pyongyang has made huge strides over the last several years in its quest for nuclear tipped missiles that can reach anywhere in the world. Trump has pushed Beijing, which is the North's only major ally, to do more to influence Pyongyang's behavior, so far to no avail.

A Chinese expert on North Korea was surprised by the vehemence of Trump's speech, saying "his rhetoric is full of military force."

Cheng Xiaohe of Renmin University said in an interview that he initially thought that "the U.S. had nearly declared war on North Korea." The speech signals that "if North Korea conducts another missile test, the U.S. is very likely to intercept."

Officials in Tokyo, meanwhile, welcomed a reference by Trump to North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s.

"I think it means an understanding has gotten through" to the United States and other countries, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said, according to Kyodo News service.

Trump said, "We know it kidnapped a sweet 13-year-old Japanese girl from a beach in her own country to enslave her as a language tutor for North Korea's spies."

The girl, Megumi Yokota, was one of at least 17 people that Japan says North Korea kidnapped.

Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in South Korea, described Trump's threats as similar to the type of bluffing that North Korea has used for decades.

"It's a bit funny to see how the U.S. president behaves in exactly the same way, using exactly the same words his North Korean counterparts have been using for decades," Lankov said.

Rhetoric that isn't followed by action will eventually undermine the U.S. image internationally. "It makes American threats far less efficient," he said.

Lankov said he expects North Korea to respond to Trump's threats with "equally powerful ... equally comical" and "probably more ridiculous rhetoric."

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Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo and Tim Sullivan in Beijing contributed to this report.


In stark UN speech, Trump threatens to 'destroy' North Korea

Sep 20, 2017 4:31AM (GMT-04:00) - 1113 words

By JONATHAN LEMIRE and DARLENE SUPERVILLE ,  Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — President Donald Trump has vowed to "totally destroy North Korea" if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies against the renegade nation's nuclear weapons program, making his case in a combative debut speech to the U.N. that laid out a stark, good-vs-evil view of a globe riven by chaos and turmoil.

Trump's broadsides Tuesday against "rogue regimes," North Korea chief among them, drew murmurs from the assembled world leaders and served as a searing salute to his nationalism during diplomatic prime time. He said it was "far past time" for the world to confront Kim Jong Un, declaring that the North Korean leader's pursuit of nuclear weapons poses a threat to "the entire world with an unthinkable loss of human life."

"Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime," Trump said, mocking the North Korean leader even as he sketched out potentially cataclysmic consequences. The president himself decided to work the nickname into his speech just hours before he took the dais, according to aides.

Trump spoke of his own nation's "patience," but said that if "forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."

Trump's overheated language was rare for a U.S. president at the rostrum of the United Nations, but the speech was textbook Trump, dividing the globe into friends and foes and taking unflinching aim at America's enemies. North Korea's ambassador and another top diplomat left the General Assembly chamber before he spoke to boycott his speech, leaving behind two empty chairs.

The president urged nations to work together to stop Iran's nuclear program and defeat "loser terrorists" who wage violence around the globe. He denounced "radical Islamic terrorism," an inflammatory label he had shied away from in recent months after trumpeting it on the campaign trail. He called Syrian President Bashar Assad's government a "criminal regime." He said violence-plagued regions of the world "are going to hell." He made little mention of Russia.

For all of that, he said there was still hope the United Nations could solve "many of these vicious and complex problems."

But he focused more on the problems than the hopes.

His lashing of North Korea was a vigorous restatement of what's been said by U.S. leaders before, but delivered with new intensity in the august setting of the General Assembly. After a litany of accusations — the starvation of millions, the abduction of a Japanese girl and more — he questioned the legitimacy of the communist government by referring to it as a "band of criminals."

Trump, who has previously warned of "fire and fury" if Pyongyang does not back down, claimed that "no one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the well-being of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea." And he scolded that it was "an outrage" to enable and trade with North Korea, seeming to point a finger at China, although he did not mention it by name.

Despite the speech's bombast, it signaled little in the way of policy change. Trump stopped short of demanding regime change, which North Korea regards as the ultimate American intention and treats as a reason for its development of nuclear weapons. That may offer some reassurance to China and Russia, which have urged the U.S. to tone down its rhetoric and restart dialogue with North Korea.

Trump, who frequently belittled the U.N. as a candidate, urged the world leaders to embrace their own "national sovereignty to do more to ensure the prosperity and security of their own countries.

"I will always put America first. Just like you, the leaders of your countries, should and always put your countries first," he said. "We can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal in which the United States gets nothing in return."

Trump's blistering speech came just minutes after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put "nuclear peril" as the gravest threat facing the world and warned that "fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings."

On Iran, Trump called the government a rogue state whose chief export is "violence, bloodshed and chaos." He accused Tehran of squandering Iran's wealth by supporting Syria's Assad, Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and Yemen's Houthi rebel group.

Trump called the U.N.-backed Iran nuclear deal "an embarrassment" to the United States and suggested it was one of the worst international pacts ever struck. And he hinted that his administration, which has accused Tehran of aiding terrorism in the Middle East, could soon declare Iran out of compliance with the deal, which could unravel it.

"I don't think you've heard the end of it," Trump said. "Believe me."

The administration must decide in mid-October whether it will certify that Iran is still in compliance with the agreement.

He also decried the "disastrous rule" of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and urged the U.N. to step in

The speech drew varying reactions from leaders on the two sides of Trump's black-and-white ledger. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Trump ally, wrote on Twitter, "In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech." Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, wrote that "Trump's ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times-not the 21st Century UN -unworthy of a reply."

On Twitter late Tuesday, Trump claimed he met with "leaders of many nations who agree with much (or all) of what I stated in my speech!"

Domestically, reaction largely broke down along party lines: Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said Trump used the U.N. "as a stage to threaten war." Onetime Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney tweeted that Trump "gave a strong and needed challenge" to the U.N.

Outside of an oblique reference to a threat to Ukraine's sovereignty, Trump made no mention of Russia or its president, Vladimir Putin. He chastised the U.N. for what he said was a bloated budget and bureaucracy but did not reiterate previous threats to cut Washington's commitment to the world body. Instead, he pledged the United States would be "partners in your work" to make the organization a more effective force for world peace.

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Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington, Matthew Lee and Edith Lederer contributed to this report.