The commander of U.S. Strategic Command said Tuesday that Washington cannot unilaterally disable North Korea's nuclear program without the help of China, despite President Donald Trump's earlier ultimatum that America would act alone if necessary.
"Any solution to the North Korea problem has to involve China," Gen. John Hyten testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"I'm a military officer, my job is to provide military options to the president, and along with the other combatant commanders, I will always have military options ready to the president if he deems in association with Congress that there's something we have to do … But I look at it from a strategic perspective and I can't see a solution that doesn't involve China," he said.
Hyten was responding to questioning from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) regarding U.S. strategy to deter North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Hyten said while U.S. nuclear capabilities and sanctions have in part deterred Pyongyang, the nation remains an unpredictable threat to America and its allies.
Hyten's testimony arrived two days after the Financial Times published an interview with the president in which Trump declared that America would pursue unilateral action to restrain North Korea if Beijing refuses to help.
Trump will host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a two-day summit beginning Thursday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where the two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea's ongoing ballistic missile tests.
"China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t," Trump told the Financial Times four days ahead of the summit. "If they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone."
Hyten agreed with Trump that China has substantial leverage over North Korea given Pyongyang's reliance on trade with its giant neighbor. Beijing accounts for more than 90 percent of Pyongyang's trade, including nearly all of North Korea's exports.
"China is the definition of North Korea's backyard," Hyten testified. "I just look at the world and I don't see a solution without China."
U.S. defense officials warned last month that North Korea is on the brink of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the United States. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced in January that Pyongyang had "entered the final stage of preparations to test-launch" an ICBM that could reach parts of America.
Hyten told the Senate committee that the U.S. military is kicked into high alert every time North Korea launches a missile test since the services cannot discern whether Pyongyang is launching a threat missile or not.
The Trump administration in February launched a full review of U.S. policy toward North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has not commented on the status of that review.