Trump: US prepared to use ‘unmatched military capabilities’ against North Korea
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 6, 2017
SEOUL, South Korea – President Donald Trump warned Tuesday the United States is prepared to use its “unmatched military capabilities” against North Korea as he began a visit to the South.
But he expressed hope that wouldn’t be necessary.
South Korea is the second leg of Trump’s first official visit to Asia, which began Sunday in Japan.
Getting ready to leave for South Korea and meetings with President Moon, a fine gentleman. We will figure it all out!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2017
He vowed that the growing threat from the North will be “front and center” of his discussions in Seoul, which is just about 35 miles from the heavily fortified border.
“North Korea is a worldwide threat that requires worldwide action,” he said at a joint press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “It’s time to act with urgency and with great determination.”
“The United States stands prepared to defend itself and its allies using the full range of our unmatched military capabilities if need be,” he added.
Trump noted that three U.S. aircraft carriers and a nuclear-powered submarine have been positioned near the peninsula.
But he also said his administration is making progress in dealing with the threat and bringing Pyongyang back to negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.
“We hope to God we never have to use” the military option, he said, adding he believes “it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and to make a deal.”
“I do see certain movement, yes. Let’s see what happens,” he told reporters.
Earlier, Trump praised Seoul’s purchases of U.S. military equipment as he continued his stress on cutting the imbalance in trade relationships with U.S. allies.
The president said he understood South Korea planned to “substantially increase” its military orders – a move he said would reduce the trade deficit.
"We have trade deficits with numerous countries and we don't want trade deficits, so we appreciate that very much," he added.
Trump’s visit comes as tensions are at the highest point in decades as North Korea demonstrates rapid progress toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.
The Republican leader has responded with a string of bellicose statements, including mocking North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Little Rocket Man.”
Trump also threatened to unleash “fire and fury” and to “totally destroy” the communist state if forced to defend the U.S. and its allies.
CRACKS IN ALLIANCE
The U.S. administration also faces cracks in its decades-old alliance with South Korea.
Trump and South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in agree on the need to increase punishing economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure against the North.
However, Moon has vowed never to allow another military conflict on the peninsula, which was devastated by the 1950-53 war.
Trump has demanded the renegotiation of the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries.
The U.S. president appeared to offer an olive branch with a tweet before leaving Japan on Tuesday.
“Getting ready to leave for South Korea and meetings with President Moon, a fine gentleman. We will figure it all out!” he wrote on Twitter.
After landing at Osan Air Base, Trump and Moon flew to Camp Humphreys to have lunch with troops in a mess hall.
“Hello everybody. Good food," Trump told reporters before turning his attention to Moon and a select group of U.S. and Korean servicemembers.
He also received a military briefing at the new 8th Army headquarters, which opened at Camp Humphreys in July after decades of being based in the capital at Yongsan Garrison.
The South Koreans have touted Camp Humphreys, a newly expanded Army garrison that is to become the U.S. military’s flagship installation here, as an example of positive burden sharing.
The government is providing the labor and footing most of the nearly $11 billion bill for the long-delayed relocation of the U.S. military headquarters south of Seoul.
The two leaders then flew by helicopter to the capital, where Trump was welcomed with a formal ceremony full of pomp and circumstance followed by a state banquet.
On Wednesday, Trump is expected to pledge his commitment to the alliance in a speech to some 550 people at the National Assembly. It will be the first such address by an American head of state since President Bill Clinton in 1993.
On the heels of his trip to Japan that focused on his friendship with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump faced a rockier reception from South Koreans.
Moon said he hoped Trump's visit would be an opportunity to resolve anxiety in the region over North Korea.
"I wish you will help give assurances to our people on a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue during your visit here, while at the same time sending a strong message to the North," Moon said at the presidential residence known as the Blue House.
PROTESTS AND SUPPORT
Protesters opposed to his hard line against the North, which they fear may push the divided peninsula back into war, planned rallies outside Humphreys in the rural area of Pyeongtaek as well as Seoul.
“Trump is violating the U.N. charter and he’s forcing South Korea to buy U.S. weapons,” said Kim Seong Gi, 49, who was protesting outside Humphreys. “Also he threatened North Korea with war and is trying to pressure South Korea over trade.”
Supporters also gathered outside Humphreys’ gates with banners welcoming Trump and praising the decades-old alliance between the two countries.
“I’m welcoming Trump,” said Park Yong Soon, a local resident. “I like his policies toward North Korea a lot. I think the U.S. should be tough against North Korea.”
The North has test-fired dozens of missiles in recent months and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3.
Senior administration officials led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have insisted that they prefer a diplomatic solution even as all options remain on the table.
For his part, Moon has been rebuffed in his efforts to restart bilateral talks with the longtime adversary.
Trump is not planning to make the customary pilgrimage to the Demilitarized Zone separating north and south, breaking with a longstanding tradition that began with President Ronald Reagan.
Administration officials denied it was due to security concerns, saying the president simply didn’t have enough time.
One official also dismissed the DMZ visit as “a bit of a cliché.”
He’ll travel Wednesday to China, where he’s expected to step up pressure on Beijing to do more to rein in the North.
Trump will also travel to Vietnam and the Philippines.
Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.