The U.S. has “plenty of tools in the toolkit” should North Korean leader Kim Jong Un not make good on his commitment last year to give up his nuclear weapons, the country’s National Security Advisor warned on Sunday.
Speaking in an interview on CBS News’s Face the Nation, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien admitted he was “surprised” by recent remarks by North Korea’s ambassador the UN in which he stated that his country would no longer discuss denuclearization with the U.S.
“We’ll have to see what happens,” he said, arguing that ambassador Kim Song appeared to be going against the DPRK leader’s promise to President Donald Trump to relinquish his nuclear weapons.
“If North Korea takes a different path than the one it’s promised its people, the people of South Korea, the United States, and the world — Kim Jong Un said that he is going to denuclearize the Korean peninsula — if he does not do that, then we’ll take that into account,” he continued.
“And we’ve got plenty of tools in the toolkit.”
While not elaborating on what precisely those tools might be, O’Brien’s comments come amid a marked increase in tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, amplified over the weekend by Pyongyang’s announcement that it had conducted a “very important” test at a key satellite launching ground.
Tweeting in response to that test, President Trump appeared to warn Kim Jong Un against escalating tensions further, stressing that he has “everything” to lose if he continues to provoke the United States.
“He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November,” Trump said.
Reiterating that point on Sunday, O’Brien said that it would be a “mistake” if Pyongyang decided to restart nuclear testing.
“Kim Jong Un promised to denuclearize North Korea. And we expect him to live up to the promise he made at the summit in Singapore,” he said. “We hope he’ll do so.”
The U.S., O’Brien added, continues to hope for a peaceful resolution to the North Korea nuclear issue, urging the country’s leadership to choose economic prosperity over an escalation of tensions.
“They could be a great country,” he said. “They could have a tremendous economic powerhouse in North Korea instead of starving and being poor. So they’ve got to make a choice.”
Saturday’s test by North Korea took place at the Sohae Satellite Launching Center — a site the North Korean leader had previously promised to dismantle at summits last year with President Trump and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.
It follows several weeks in which Pyongyang has sought to dial-up the pressure on the U.S. ahead of its year-end deadline for diplomacy to produce results, after which it has promised to pursue a “new path.”
One expert said the O’Brien’s remarks spoke to a continued “denial and delusion” among the Trump administration over the state of negotiations with North Korea — and the potential cost of threatening the country with military action as the prospect for renewed tensions in the new year looms.
“If you want to even get talks on nuclear issues off life support, it seems like threatening Kim or North Korea with elimination isn’t the brightest strategy,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told NK News.
“I get the sense this team is unprepared for what’s about to hit them,” he continued. “And if the temperature reaches 2017 again, and Trump feels betrayed in an election year by his jilted lover Kim, there are no diplomatic off ramps left.”
“Trump could continue to live in denial, of course, if Kim tests a solid fuel ICBM for example in the near future, but something tells me his ego won’t let him.”
South Korea also appears increasingly concerned about the growing war of words between Pyongyang and Washington, with the country’s unification ministry on Monday promising Seoul would do its best to keep diplomacy between the two alive.
“While recognizing the grave situation, we will closely watch developments surrounding North Korea in close cooperation with relevant agencies,” ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min told press, in comments carried by Yonhap.
“As the North and the U.S. are still willing to make progress through dialogue, the [South Korean] government, for its part, will take necessary measures and make other efforts to help them keep dialogue momentum and make progress.”
Featured image: State Department