Days before President Trump hosts his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, a top U.S. official warned Tuesday that “the clock has run out” on decades of diplomatic efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and military action may ultimately be necessary.
“The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table for us,” the official told reporters at a briefing held on condition that he not be identified by name.
Hours after those remarks were reported, North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the waters off its east coast, according to South Korean officials.
Trump will host Xi late this week at his Mar-a-Lago private club in Florida, their first face-to-face talks since the November election. The American president is expected to raise longstanding concerns about what the new administration angrily describes as an unfair bilateral trade relationship and about what is seen in the West Wing as Beijing’s stubborn refusal to do more to contain North Korea’s belligerent behavior.
“It is now urgent, because we feel that the clock is very, very quickly running out,” the official told reporters. “We would have loved to see North Korea join the community of nations. They’ve been given that opportunity over the course of different dialogues and offers over the course of four administrations, with some of our best diplomats and statesmen doing the best they could to bring about a resolution.”
Xi’s willingness to work more closely with Washington on North Korea will be “in some ways, a test of the relationship,” the official said. Trump is expected to press his guest to fully enforce international economic sanctions meant to starve the secretive regime in Pyongyang of resources — and especially hurt the lifestyle of its ruling elites.
In the days and weeks before the high-stakes summit between Trump and Xi, the administration has escalated its rhetoric on North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently said the threat that country poses is “imminent.” During a trip to Asia, he said Washington is out of “strategic patience” and that “all options are on the table” — a phrase typically understood to refer to military action. In mid-March, Trump said on Twitter that North Korea was “behaving very badly” and complained that “China has done little to help.”
“I think we have to be clear-eyed as to how far China will go and not get overly optimistic as to how far they’ll go,” Tillerson told a January 11 hearing on his confirmation as secretary of state.
“If China is not going to comply with … U.N. sanctions, then it’s appropriate for us — for the United States — to consider actions to compel them to comply,” he added.