All 100 U.S. senators have been invited to the White House on Wednesday for a classified briefing that will primarily concern North Korea, the administration announced Monday.
The briefing will be conducted by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford.
While lawmakers often receive classified briefings on Capitol Hill, it is rare for them to take place at the White House and for the entire Senate to be involved in one event.
During a White House lunch with ambassadors of United Nations Security Council member states on Monday, the U.S. president called unacceptable the "status quo in North Korea."
Trump said the Security Council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
"North Korea is a big world problem, and it's a problem we have to finally solve," the president added. "People have put blindfolds on for decades, and now it's time to solve the problem."
The comments came after Trump made his latest round of separate telephone calls to the leaders of Japan, China and Germany to discuss concerns about North Korea. His most recent call was made just before meeting the ambassadors on Monday morning to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the "urgent security challenge" posed by North Korea, according to the White House.
A 30-minute call (Sunday evening U.S. time/Monday morning in Asia) between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meant to increase pressure on Pyongyang not to engage in further provocative actions, but was not prompted by any significant change in the situation, according to officials in Tokyo.
"We agreed to strongly demand North Korea, which is repeating its provocation, show restraint," Abe told reporters in Tokyo. "We will maintain close contact with the United States, maintain a high level of vigilance and firmly respond."
Abe also said he and Trump agreed that a larger role in dealing with Pyongyang should be played by China.
Trump subsequently spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping about North Korea.
The Chinese president said he hopes all sides avoid doing anything to worsen the tense situation on the Korean peninsula, according to the Xinhua news agency.
Trump, in the phone call with Xi, "criticized North Korea's continued belligerence and emphasized Pyongyang's actions are destabilizing the Korean Peninsula," according to a White House readout issued Monday. "The two leaders reaffirmed the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, and committed to strengthen coordination in achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
North Korea's continued development of ballistic missiles and its underground nuclear tests — there have been five — are "to put it mildly, a game changer," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Monday. "And it's one of the reasons why you've seen administration officials talking so candidly about our concerns and about the fact that the time for strategic patience and that policy is over."
Trump and U.S. officials have repeatedly said all options remain "on the table" to deal with further North Korean provocations.
The conversations involving the president about North Korea took place as a U.S. Navy strike force, led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, is approaching the Sea of Japan, off the east coast of the Korean peninsula.
The strike force on Monday was wrapping up a "routine" joint drill "to provide combined maritime response" with components of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force in the Philippines Sea "as it continued its northern transit," U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters at the Pentagon.
Officials in Seoul announced earlier Monday the Vinson is also scheduled to hold a joint training exercise with South Korean naval ships.
"Consultations are under way in connection with the exercise," Ministry of National Defense spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told reporters. He provided no additional details.
The approach of the American naval carrier strike group has not gone unnoticed in Pyongyang.
"Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike," read a Sunday commentary in the Rodong Sinmun, the Workers' Party newspaper.
Such threats are common from the reclusive state.
North Korea on Tuesday celebrates the anniversary of the founding of its military, a key holiday in the country.
There are concerns Pyongyang, in conjunction with the anniversary, will demonstrate a show of force by possibly firing more ballistic missiles or conducting its sixth nuclear test.
Trump has said that Xi is applying pressure on North Korea to not engage in further provocations.
It is speculated by analysts in Washington and Beijing that China is threatening to cut crude oil supplies to its impoverished neighbor should it conduct another nuclear test.
Meanwhile, a third U.S. citizen was detained Friday by North Korean authorities as he was about to leave the country.
Toner at the State Department told reporters he was not aware of any diplomatic access to the American.
The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) confirmed the detention of Kim Sang-duk, who had been teaching accounting at the privately-funded school started by evangelical Christians.
"We cannot comment on anything that Mr. Kim may be alleged to have done that is not related to his teaching work on the PUST campus," the university said in a statement Sunday.
At least two other U.S. citizens are known to be held in North Korea.
The U.S. State Department said it is working with Swedish diplomats on the case.
The United States and North Korea have never had diplomatic ties. Sweden's embassy in Pyongyang represents the interests of American citizens in the country.
North Korea has a pattern of detaining and sentencing American visitors to prison in order to get high-profile visitors to go there to obtain their release.
North Korea launched another round of aggressive rhetoric at the United States on Thursday as media reports indicated troops in both China and South Korea were on high alert.
As a major military anniversary approached Tuesday, North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper hurled a threat at the United States.
“In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes,” read the newspaper.
South Korea said it was bracing for possible provocations as North Korea prepares to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday.
“It is a situation where a lot of exercise equipment is amassed in North Korea and also a lot of strategic assets are situated on the Korean peninsula because of the South Korea-U.S. military drills,” said South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng.
“We are closely watching the situation and will not be letting our guards down,” he added.
Meanwhile, CNN reported that China put cruise-missile-capable bombers “on high alert,” quoting unnamed U.S. officials who interpreted the move as a preparation for any outbreak of violence on the Korean Peninsula.
Some media reports also said Russia was moving military equipment towards the small portion of its border that it shares with North Korea. Russia would neither confirm nor deny the reports.
As rhetoric and tensions were rising, President Donald Trump dodged a direct question about the mental competence of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
Trump was asked by Fox News reporter John Roberts whether he thought Kim was “mentally unstable, adding, “Is he a man that can be reasoned with?”
“As far as North Korea is concerned, we are in very good shape,” Trump responded. “We’re building our military rapidly. A lot of things have happened over the last short period of time. I have been here for approximately 91 days. We’re doing a lot of work … I can’t answer your question on stability. I hope the answer is a positive one, not a negative one, but hopefully that will be something that gets taken care of.”
Trump also took a moment to praise China, which he has been urging to put pressure on North Korea.
“I have great respect for the president of China,” Trump said. “As you know, we had a great summit in Florida … and got to know each other and I think like each other. I can say from my standpoint I liked him very much. I respect him very much and I think he is working very hard … I actually told him, I said, you’ll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace or do something about the menace of North Korea, because that’s what it is.”
April 26th is shaping up to be a busy day.
As we reported on Friday, that's when Operation Gotham Shield, an exercise involving FEMA, Homeland Security and a myriad of law enforcement and military agencies and which simulates a nuclear bomb blast over Manhattan, is set to conclude.
Then, as we learned earlier, April 26 is also when the entire Senate will be briefed by Donald Trump and his four top defense and military officials on the situation in North Korea at the White House, an event which Reuters dubbed as "unusual."
April 26 is also when the USS Carl Vinson is expected to finally arrive off the coast of the Korean Penninsula.
Now, in a statement from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the regional association reports that "law enforcement officials and other first responders will participate in a full-scale exercise on April 26 designed to prepare for the possibility of a complex coordinated terror attack in the National Capital Region."
The statement adds that emergency managers who work together at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) planned the exercise to help protect residents by preparing for an attack involving multiple target locations and teams of perpetrators.
The exercise will be conducted across a widespread geographical area. According to the release, the regional exercise will be staged at six sites in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia, and will involve hundreds of police, fire, and emergency medical service personnel and volunteer actors.
The locations include neighborhoods in the northeast and southeast quadrants of the District of Columbia, Prince George’s County, and Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Residents in those neighborhoods will be notified ahead of time to expect the exercise.
According to Scott Boggs, Managing Director of Homeland Security and Public Safety at COG, “Law enforcement officials practice and exercise their skills on their own regularly because that’s the best way to ensure we are always ready to respond quickly and professionally. On April 26, we’ll go one step further and stage a very realistic emergency event involving multiple sites and actors posing as the casualties. However, there is no reason for residents to be alarmed because the exercise will occur in a controlled environment.”
In the recent story over at Newsmax they report that according to the head of the Department of Homeland Security General John Kelly, the FBI is investigating claims of radical Islamic terrorism spread across all 50 US states. According to a story published the same day over at the Washington Free Beacon, "terrorists inside of America are plotting attacks each and every day" with further warnings that the threat of terrorism in America has hit an all-time high.
Just days ago, General Kelly also spoke out on homegrown terror, claiming the most common threat now facing the US is something that "he doesn't know how to stop". Claiming the DHS is 'completely blind' to what terrorists here are capable of doing, his remarks surely didn't inspire confidence in the DHS being able to protect America and proved once more, when it comes to 'protection', Americans are best served by taking that upon themselves.
And while the DHS is largely running blind due to past policies of 'terrorist appeasement' shown by the Obama administration, it's good to hear that Kelly says one of the most important ways to get this problem under control is by controlling our borders and who gets to 'come in'. Yet, as has been warned time and again, finding the 'enemies of America' already within, those who've been radicalized here at home, is like finding a needle in the haystack.
South Korean military officials said Monday that the USS Carl Vinson would be joined by a US submarine for military drills off the Korean Peninsula later this week.
"The nuclear-powered submarine USS Michigan will enter the waters off the peninsula soon or later to jointly conduct drills with the USS Carl Vinson," one official told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
It comes amid a tense standoff between Pyongyang and Washington as a war words between the two nations continue to fly. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) called the submarine’s deployment "undisguised military blackmail." Pyongyang feels that the annual drills are little more than dress rehearsal for invading the North and removing its top leadership, namely Supreme leader Kim Jong-un.
The North also said the presence of the Michigan would create a "touch-and-go" situation on the peninsula, with Rodong Shinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, writing on Monday, "If the enemies recklessly provoke the DPRK, its revolutionary armed forces will promptly give deadly blows to them and counter any total war with all-out war and nuclear war with a merciless nuclear strike of Korean style."
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