BEIJING — President Donald Trump warned Thursday North Korea could face “some pretty severe” consequences after its defiant test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, but Washington also confronted firm opposition from Russia and China over any possible response.
Trump did not specify potential U.S.-directed punishment for North Korea, which on Tuesday launched a missile that experts say had a range that made it capable of reaching Alaska. Yet efforts to find consensus among world powers appeared to hit a wall — sharply limiting Trump’s options. New sanctions would have little effect unless backed by China, which is the North’s financial lifeline. Russia also has rejected further economic pressures on the regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
With key players at odds, Trump must now find a way forward as he attends Group of 20 meetings in Germany. There, Trump is expected to have his second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his first with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
In Warsaw, Trump said the United States was considering “some pretty severe things” in response to what he called “very, very bad behavior” from the North, although he did not mention any specific plans.
“Something will have to be done about it,” he said.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Thursday the ICBM launch alone does not bring the United States closer to war with North Korea. The United States is leading the way on diplomatic and economic efforts to change Pyong-yang’s behavior, he said.
“I do not believe this capability brings us closer to war,” Mattis told reporters, according to Stars and Stripes newspaper. “Diplomacy has not failed. It is our self-restraint that has prevented war . . . Our self-restraint holds.”
Pentagon officials this week have sought to underscore that the ICBM threat posed by North Korea is “nascent,” and that Pyongyang still has a long way to go in terms of understanding the trajectory of the missiles and re-entry before they could hit North America.
While the Trump administration has said all options are on the table, Mattis has warned that an armed conflict would include “probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetime,” citing the threat posed by hundreds of North Korean rocket launchers and artillery pieces aimed at Seoul.
The Pentagon and State Department have not taken steps that would indicate U.S. officials are seriously concerned the situation is an immediate crisis, such as sending home the families of U.S. service members and State Department employees stationed in South Korea.
At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley accused China and Russia of “holding the hands” of Kim. She chided Beijing and Moscow for not supporting a resolution that would tighten sanctions and hinted that the United States would consider the use of force.
Vladimir Safronkov, a Russian envoy to the UN, called stricter sanctions “not acceptable” and military action “inadmissible.” A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry called for calm in response to U.S. remarks.