National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday that the U.S. is “taking all possible actions” to resolve the nuclear threat from North Korea without resorting to military action, but declined to rule out responding to another threat from the country with force.
President Donald Trump was criticized last week for warning that North Korea, which has been in conflict with the United States since the start of the Korean War in 1950, would face “fire and fury” if it issued any more threats to the United States. The comments were interpreted by some as threatening a preemptive nuclear attack and overheated.
Asked on ABC’s “This Week” to clarify if threats alone would provoke a military response from the U.S., McMaster said it “depends on the nature of the threat.”
“This is why what Kim Jong-un is doing is very, very dangerous,” McMaster said, referring to the North Korean dictator. “Of course any response that we have we do in close cooperation with our allies in the region. As you know, we have been prepared for an escalation on the Korean peninsula since the armistice in 1953.”
“The difference between then and now is the danger is much greater,” he added. “And it’s growing every day, with every missile test, with the … nuclear tests. And so what we can no longer do is afford to procrastinate. And President Trump has made it very clear, he cannot tolerate, will not tolerate, a threat to the United States from North Korea involving nuclear weapons.”
But despite the escalating rhetoric from Trump, McMaster said the threat of war with North Korea has not dramatically increased over the past few days, though he underscored the seriousness of the problem.
“We’re not closer to war than a week ago. But we’re closer to war than we were a decade ago,” McMaster said. “And, as Dr. [Henry] Kissinger made clear in a great op-ed this weekend, this has been a problem that we have procrastinated on for a long period of time, and now it’s coming to a head. Where the threat from North Korea, not only to the United States but to the world, is very, very clear. And it demands a concerted effort by the United States, but with our allies and all responsible nations.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo similarly said Sunday that there is no “imminent” threat of North Korea attacking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon, though he still expects the country to continue developing its missile program even as other countries call on it to stop.
“There’s nothing imminent today,” Pompeo told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” asked what kind of threat the U.S. is facing. “But make no mistake about it, the continuation, the increased chance that there will be a nuclear missile in Denver is a very serious threat and the investigation is going to treat it as such.”
Asked if that meant that he does not expect any future missile tests, Pompeo said he is “quite confident” that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “will continue to try to develop a missile program, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there was another missile test.”
“What I’m talking about is I’ve heard folks talking about being on the cusp of a nuclear war,” he clarified. There is “no intelligence that would indicate that we’re in that place today,” he added.
Pompeo also defended Trump’s “fire and fury” comment.
“The president has made it very clear to the North Korean regime how America will respond if certain actions are taken,” Pompeo said. “We are hopeful that the leader of that country will understand them in precisely the way they are intended, to permit him a place to get where we can get the nuclear weapons off the peninsula.”
“It’s that straightforward,” he continued. “What we need from an intelligence perspective, what is most important is that our communications are clear that the fella who intends to inflict pain on the United States of America understands the U.S. position in an unambiguous way. That’s the best message you can deliver to someone who’s putting America at risk.”
Pompeo also said the intelligence community was not surprised by the recent news that North Korea is now capable of fitting a nuclear warhead on a missile.