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Trump cites ‘military option’ on North Korea

A rainbow appears over Tumon Bay, Guam on Aug 13. Residents of the US Pacific island territory of Guam face a missile threat from North Korea. (AP)

WASHINGTON, Aug 13, (Agencies): US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart pledged Saturday to work to denuclearize North Korea, but Trump again invoked the grim possibility of “military measures” if other steps should fail.

Trump’s latest warning came amid a flurry of international calls — from China, the North’s key ally, as well as Russia, Germany, Britain and the United Nations — for the president to show greater rhetorical restraint. A White House statement said Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking by phone, had discussed “the increasingly dangerous situation associated with North Korea’s destabilizing and escalatory behavior.”

It added that the United States and allies were ready “to apply the full range of diplomatic, economic and military measures” to end any threat. But Macron, while expressing “concern at the ballistic and nuclear threat” from North Korea, said world leaders needed to get Pyongyang to “resume the path of dialogue without conditions,” joining the international voices urging caution.

Trump’s call with Macron came hours after Chinese leader Xi Jinping had urged the American president in a separate phone call to avoid inflammatory rhetoric toward Pyongyang. The Chinese foreign ministry said Xi urged Trump to avoid “words and deeds” that would “exacerbate” the already tense situation and to seek a political settlement. Trump raised alarm around the world — and particularly in Asia — by warning that North Korea would face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it were to keep threatening the United States. That drew a sharp rebuttal from Pyongyang, which threatened to launch missiles toward Guam, a US territory in the western Pacific where some 6,000 American troops are based.

Xi’s plea for caution came hours after Trump stepped up his earlier warning to Pyongyang, saying the isolated regime would “truly regret” taking any hostile action against the United States. When North Korea makes a threat, the government in Seoul usually vents its anger while South Koreans mostly shrug off what can seem like a daily barrage of hostility. Trump has introduced a new wrinkle to this familiar pattern. His recent Pyongyang-style threat to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea has been met with silence from the top levels of South Korea’s government — and worry, sometimes anger, from the country’s citizens.

It highlights an interesting feature of South Korea, a strong US ally, trading partner and fellow democracy where there can seem to be as much, maybe more, worry about Trump’s unpredictable style of leadership as there is about archrival North Korea. Many South Koreans ignore Pyongyang because they have lived with near-constant North Korean belligerence, and sometimes violence, since the Korean Peninsula was divided in 1945 and the two countries fought a bloody, three-year war five years later. The government in Seoul, however, is far from indifferent to its northern neighbor. When North Korea on Thursday repeated a threat against Guam, saying it was working on a plan to launch missiles into the waters near the US territory, Roh Jae-cheon, spokesman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared on TV to declare that Seoul and Washington were prepared to “immediately and sternly punish” any provocation by the North.

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