U.S. President Donald Trump said military options against North Korea were not Washington’s “first choice”, following a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.
While Trump did not rule out military intervention, the comments were calmer than his assertion in August that North Korean threats against the U.S. would be met with “fire and fury”, amid escalating tensions with the DPRK.
The two leaders discussed the DPRK following its successful sixth nuclear test on Sunday. The country’s state media claimed it detonated a hydrogen bomb which could be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
“Certainly that’s not our first choice, but we will see what happens,” Trump said at the White House.
The U.S. President added the discussions with his Chinese counterpart were “frank” and “very strong”, and implied Beijing would be taking some action on Pyongyang.
“President Xi would like to do something. We’ll see whether or not he can do it. But we will not be putting up with what’s happening in North Korea,” Trump said.
In its account of the call, China’s Foreign Ministry said Xi had told Trump Beijing was committed to UN resolutions and that China was not interested in any type of military intervention on the Korean Peninsula.
“At the same time, we always persist in safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and resolving the issue through dialogue and consultation,” Xi said in comments translated by Reuters.
The call with the Chinese President followed two others with the Prime Ministers from the UK and Australian a day earlier, the White House said on Wednesday.
Despite Trump’s apparently softer tone on military action, he also told UK leader Theresa May “that now is not the time to talk to North Korea,” further signalling Washington’s current emphasis on economic and sanctions pressure.
“I am still wondering if the Trump administration has an emergent strategy based on the good cop/bad cop or if Trump is spouting off and his advisors are having to rush to do damage control. Given Trump’s contradictory statements on military action, I would suspect the latter,” Ken Gause, a North Korea leadership specialist with the CNA Corporation told NK News.
“This is absolutely the time we need to be looking for an opening for back channel talks with Pyongyang,” he added.
The U.S. President also reassured his Australian counterpart that Washington was committed to defending its allies with all available military and diplomatic options.