President Donald Trump said Sunday he was open to the possibility of unilateral action against North Korea, should China fail to join the U.S. in pressuring North Korean leader Kim John Un over the nuclear threat his regime poses.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Trump said he would discuss the issue at his Florida resort later this week in his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won't," Trump said in the Oval Office. "If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don't, it won't be good for anyone.
"Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will," Trump added. "That is all I am telling you."
Trump continued that it was "totally" possible for the U.S. to act unilaterally, but when pressed what that could mean, he responded, "I don't have to say any more. Totally."
The White House viewed North Korea as "the most imminent threat" to the U.S. following warnings from former President Barack Obama over gains North Korea had made in long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, according to The Financial Times.
Trump has not held back in criticizing China over their economic and trade policies, but indicated ahead of the U.S.-China meeting that he thought he could find common ground with the Chinese president.
"I have great respect for him. I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries, and I hope so," Trump said.
After taking office, Trump asked the National Security Council to put together a list of options which he could take to his meeting with the Chinese president, according to two sources. Those include sanctions to more covert activities.
Dennis Wilder, a former CIA China analyst and aide to former President George W. Bush, told The Financial Times the list could include sanctions, pressure on the Chinese government to cut back on North Korean labor or more "controversial" tactics, "like taking covert action against North Korea, for example using cyber."
Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, told The Financial Times in a separate interview there was "a real possibility that North Korea will be able to hit the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile by the end of the first Trump term." Reportedly, the White House recently offered McFarland a position as ambassador to Singapore.
And, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a visit last month to Asia, announced that the "policy of strategic patience has ended."
China has voiced concerns over the threat posed by North Korea when its Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month called for a halt to their nuclear program. This, while also urging the U.S. to cease military exercises in the region.
"The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other with neither side willing to give way. The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?" Wang said.
In a separate interview, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States is looking to China to take action against North Korea.
"The only country that can stop North Korea is China and they know that," Haley told ABC's "This Week" in an interview broadcast on Sunday. "We're going to continue to put pressure on China to have action."
The Mar-a-Lago meeting will be the two leaders' first face-to-face encounter.
On Thursday, Trump predicted a "very difficult" summit with Xi, noting the disputes over trade policy between the world's two most powerful nations and leading economies.
But Haley emphasized that at the Florida meeting "the most important conversation will be how we're going to be dealing with the nonproliferation of North Korea."
Beijing, increasingly frustrated with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile activities, has announced a suspension of all coal imports from the North until the end of the year.
Haley deemed that measure -- which was in keeping with UN sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program and missile program -- insufficient, saying that coal is "going in other ways."
"At some point, we need to see definitive actions by China condemning North Korea and not just calling them out for it," she said.
Since taking office, Trump has left open the possibility of military action against North Korea.
Following that country's early March missile tests, which came provocatively close to Japan, the US leader emphasized his administration's commitment to "deter and defend against North Korea's ballistic missiles using the full range of United States military capabilities."
Former US defense secretary Ash Carter, who served under Barack Obama, said the US has "always had all options on the table."
Also speaking on ABC, he recalled that the United States drew up a "preemptive strike plan" in 1994 to knock out North Korea's Yongbyon reactor, during a confrontation over its nuclear program.
"We have those options," he said. "We shouldn't take them off the table."
But he said a US strike on North Korea would likely trigger a North Korean attempt to invade South Korea.
"This is a war that would have an intensity of violence associated with it that we haven't seen since the last Korean War," he said.
"Seoul is right there on the borders of the DMZ, so even though the outcome is certain, it is a very destructive war. And so one needs to proceed very carefully here."
He said Washington should continue to pressure China to lean on North Korea, but he was not optimistic that would lead to anything.
Beijing fears a potential North Korean collapse, which would result in "a unified Korea allied with the United States on their border," Carter said.
AFP contributed to this report.
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