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State Dept Official: Trump Admin Views North Korea as Top Security Priority

Administration putting 'maximum pressure' on Pyongyang to counter nuclear, missile programs

This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 26, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attending the combined fire demonstration of the services of the Korean People's Army in celebration
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 26, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attending the combined fire demonstration of the services of the Korean People's Army in celebration / Getty Images
• April 27, 2017 12:06 pm

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The Trump administration sees North Korea as the top national security priority for the United States, according to a senior State Department official.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton said Thursday that North Korea represents an international security challenge of the "first order" amid growing concerns over advancements of its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

"This is the number one security priority for the administration," Thornton said at an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.

"[This administration] is putting a lot of effort into getting an international coalition and using all tools to the maximum effect in a short period of time to create a burst of pressure so that we can test this hypothesis: Is there pressure that we can bring to bear to change the calculus?" she continued.

Trump's top national security aides completed a two-month North Korea policy review earlier this month. The administration announced it would pursue a strategy of "maximum pressure" on Pyongyang in an attempt to counter its nuclear and missile programs through sanctions, diplomatic means, and military options.

The review, led by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, does not call for regime change but maintains the longstanding option of pre-emptive strikes against North Korea's military systems.

The administration announced Wednesday it planned to tighten sanctions on Pyongyang. The strategy was released after all 100 members of the Senate participated in a rare briefing at the White House to discuss the "urgent" threat of North Korea with cabinet members.

President Donald Trump has pressured China, North Korea's closest ally, to increase economic pressure against the regime through strict sanctions. Eighty percent of North Korean trade flows through China, positioning President Xi Jinping as a key actor in efforts to corral Kim Jong Un.

Thornton said the Chinese have indicated to the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that they understand the urgency of the threat.

"I think everyone, including the Chinese, at least in their rhetoric, understand that the time to try to attack this problem has come," Thornton said. "We've seen now a ratcheting up of testing and development of [North Korea's missile and nuclear] programs that makes the problem really urgent and has frankly made it a global threat as opposed to a regional problem."

Tillerson will head to New York City on Friday to chair a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the North Korean threat. Thornton said the State Department would not hesitate to apply pressure on any nation tied to North Korea.

Published under: North Korea, Trump Administration