Advertisement

Donald Trump holds rare White House briefing on North Korea

This image made from video of a still image broadcast in a news bulletin by North Korea's KRT on April 26, 2017, shows leader Kim Jong Un at what was said to be a "Combined Fire Demonstration" held to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the North Korean army.
This image made from video of a still image broadcast in a news bulletin by North Korea's KRT on April 26, 2017, shows leader Kim Jong Un at what was said to be a "Combined Fire Demonstration" held to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the North Korean army. KRT via AP Video

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration hosted senators for an extraordinary White House briefing Wednesday at a perilous moment with North Korea, marked by the unpredictable nation’s nuclear threats and stern talk of military action, if necessary, from the United States.

All 100 senators were invited and transported in buses for the unprecedented, classified briefing. President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, defence secretary, top general and national intelligence director were to outline for them the North’s escalating nuclear capabilities and U.S. response options, officials said. The briefing team was to meet later with House members in the Capitol.

READ MORE: North Korea ready to sink U.S. aircraft carrier ‘with a single strike’

The unusual sessions don’t necessarily presage the use of force along one of the world’s most heavily militarized frontiers, and some lawmakers questioned whether the cross-Washington procession was largely show, with Trump expected to drop in on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building gathering of lawmakers.

Story continues below advertisement

But it certainly reflected the increased American alarm over North Korea’s progress in developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the U.S. mainland. And the recent flurry of military activity on and around the divided Korean Peninsula has put the world at high alert.

WATCH: North Korea says ready to sink U.S. aircraft carrier

Click to play video 'North Korea says ready to sink U.S. aircraft carrier' North Korea says ready to sink U.S. aircraft carrier
North Korea says ready to sink U.S. aircraft carrier – Apr 23, 2017

Tensions have escalated since Trump took office three months ago, determined to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile advances.

 

In the past two weeks, Trump has ordered high-powered U.S. military vessels, including an aircraft carrier, to the region in a show of force to deter North Korea from more nuclear and missile tests. The North on Tuesday conducted large-scale, live-fire artillery drills, witnessed by national leader Kim Jong Un, as a reminder of its conventional threat to U.S.-allied South Korea.

Story continues below advertisement

And on Wednesday, South Korea started installing key parts of a contentious U.S. missile defence system against North Korean missiles that also has sparked Chinese and Russian concerns.

READ MORE: Japan tells citizens they can only expect 10-minute warning of a North Korea missile attack

America’s Pacific forces commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., told Congress on Wednesday the system would be operational within days. He said any North Korean missile fired at U.S. forces would be destroyed.

“If it flies, it will die,” Harris said.

The Trump administration has said all options, including a military strike, are on the table. However, a U.S. pre-emptive attack isn’t likely, according to American officials. Instead, they’ve said the administration’s strategy focuses on increasing pressure on North Korea with the help of its main trading partner, China.

Sen. Ben Cardin, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top-ranking Democrat, said he was hoping to hear the Trump administration’s game plan Wednesday.

WATCH: China urges calm as Trump holds calls on North Korea

Click to play video 'China urges calm as Trump holds calls on North Korea' China urges calm as Trump holds calls on North Korea
China urges calm as Trump holds calls on North Korea – Apr 24, 2017

The U.S. needs a strategy to change North Korea’s economic and security calculus for it to freeze and ultimately eliminate its nuclear and missile programs, he said, adding: There’s no “pretty military solution.”

Story continues below advertisement

U.S. officials said Wednesday’s briefings will centre on three key issues: intelligence about the North’s capabilities; U.S. response options, including military ones; and how to get China and other countries to enforce existing economic sanctions on Pyongyang, along with ideas for new penalties. The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly about plans for the closed-door briefings and requested anonymity.

WATCH: Trump confident, says China making ‘unusual’ moves regarding North Korea

Click to play video 'Trump confident, says China making ‘unusual’ moves regarding North Korea' Trump confident, says China making ‘unusual’ moves regarding North Korea
Trump confident, says China making ‘unusual’ moves regarding North Korea – Apr 20, 2017

“China is the key to this,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said. “The purpose of this briefing is to tell us the situation and the intelligence we have and what (are) the options we have.”

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Harris said he expects North Korea, under Kim’s autocratic rule, to soon be able to develop a long-range missile capable of striking the United States, despite some spectacular failures in its ballistic missile program. “One of these days soon, he will succeed,” Harris said.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: U.S. missile defence system installed in South Korea as North flexes muscles

North Korea routinely accuses the United States of readying for an invasion, and threatens pre-emptive strikes to stop the U.S.

On Wednesday, North Korea’s U.N. mission said it would react to “a total war” with the U.S. with nuclear war. It said it would win in a “death-defying struggle against the U.S. imperialists.”

A targeted U.S. attack to take out North Korea’s nuclear weapons program could spark a wider war on the Korean peninsula, lawmakers and experts have warned. Harris said the U.S. has “a lot of pre-emptive options,” but he declined to provide specifics in an open setting.

China has been urging restraint by both Pyongyang and Washington. In Berlin, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Wednesday that North Korea must suspend its nuclear activities, but “on the other side, the large-scale military manoeuvrs in Korean waters should be halted.”

China opposes the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system, or THAAD, being installed in South Korea. The U.S. says it will only target North Korean missiles, but China and Russia see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said THAAD would upset the “strategic balance” in the region. He said China will take “necessary measures to defend our own interests.”

Story continues below advertisement

Klug reported from Seoul, South Korea. Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung in Seoul; Chris Bodeen in Beijing; Richard Lardner, Matthew Lee and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.