Less than a day after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence declared “the era of strategic patience is over” regarding North Korea, the White House press secretary indicated tolerance for a bit more patience.
“I think that we’re going to continue to work with China in particular to help find a way forward,” spokesman Sean Spicer said at Monday’s daily briefing when asked about the vice president’s remark.
The press secretary characterized “the era of strategic patience” as an Obama administration policy of “basically wait and see” that is not prudent for the United States. But, he added, as a result of the recent talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the current administration is giving Beijing time to use its economic and political influence on Pyongyang.
The vice president, speaking to reporters Monday near the Korean Demilitarized Zone, said “President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons; and, also, its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”
The comments came a day after North Korea tried and failed to launch a missile from its submarine base at Sinpo.
WATCH: ‘The Era of Strategic Patience is Over,’ Pence Says
At a hastily called news conference Monday in New York, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, accused the United States of pushing the Korean peninsula “to the brink of a war,” warning that a “thermo-nuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula.”
Referring to the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its strike group to waters off the Korean peninsula, Kim said if Washington “dares opt for a military action,” calling it a preemptive strike, “the DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”
Such belligerent rhetoric from North Korea’s state media and officials is common.
Pyongyang has yet to conduct its anticipated sixth nuclear test, amid indications it has made all preparations for such an event. North Korea held a massive military parade Saturday, exhibiting some new long-range and submarine-based missiles.
Pence’s visit to Northeast Asia comes at a time of heightened tensions over North Korea’s defiant efforts to ultimately develop a nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, and the Trump administration’s determination to prevent that from happening.
“I think the U.S. has been clear that we want to resolve this issue through the peaceful de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton. “We are definitely not seeking conflict or regime change, but we are committed to defending our people and our allies, should it be necessary.”
Trump on Monday told a reporter that North Korea has “got to behave” and, in remarks recorded for airing Tuesday on a Fox News program, contended that his presidential predecessors had “all been outplayed” by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
It is a questionable whether Trump is serious about the use of force against Kim or just bluffing to pressure him and the Chinese, according to one analyst.
The national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “are well aware that North Korea is not Syria or Afghanistan, and that a military strike against the North is a risky gambit whose full import is impossible to anticipate,” a former CIA analyst on Korean issues, Sue Mi Terry, told VOA.
“My take is that all of this rhetoric is simply to ramp up the pressure and signal to the world, particularly China and North Korea, that they are not pushovers like they think the Obama administration had been,” added Terry, who served as Northeast Asia affairs director on the National Security Council at the end of the Bush and beginning of the Obama administrations.
Terry said she sees the Trump administration’s approach as “an intensification of Obama’s sanctions approach,” adding it is yet unclear what is replacing strategic patience.
Brian Padden and Youmi Kim in Seoul, Margaret Besheer at the U.N., and Cindy Saine at the State Department contributed to this report.