US President Donald Trump has asked to be provided with a range of options to eliminate North Korea's nuclear threat, a senior official said on Monday. This comes after a US strike group led by an aircraft carrier steamed towards the Korean peninsula on Sunday.
The latest US naval move will surely increase the tensions in the region. It certainly comes hard on the heels of a US cruise missile strike on Syria that was widely interpreted as putting Pyongyang on warning over its refusal to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
In response to Thursday's attack, North Korea denounced it as an act of "intolerable aggression" and said that the attack justified "a million times over" the North's push toward a credible nuclear deterrent.
In an interview broadcast on Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insisted that the United States does not intend to try to remove the regime of Kim Jong-Un. "That is not our objective and so the whole reasons underlying the development of a nuclear program in North Korea are simply not credible," Tillerson told the ABC programme "This Week."
He said the United States expects China, the main ally of North Korea, to do more to rein in the regime in Pyongyang. "They have indicated that they will, and I think we need to allow them time to take actions," Tillerson added.
Meanwhile, US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that it is "prudent" to send the strike group to the Korean peninsula, criticising North Korea as a rogue nuclear-armed nation engaged in provocative behaviour.
"Presidents before and President Trump agreed that that is unacceptable, that what must happen is the denuclearisation of the peninsula," McMaster told Fox News.
Referring to Trump's advisors, he added: "The president has asked them to be prepared to give us a full range of options to remove that threat."
North Korea is on a quest to develop a long-range missile that will be capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead. Till now it has staged five nuclear tests, two of which were tested last year. However, experts have analysed the satellite imagery and it suggests that Pyongyang could well be preparing for a sixth test.
On Wednesday, North Korea fired a medium-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan ahead of a US-China summit. The isolated North is barred under UN resolutions from any use of ballistic missile technology. The missile launch came after President Donald Trump threatened by saying that the US was prepared to go it alone in bringing the North to heel if China does not step in.
Last year in August, Pyongyang successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile 500 kilometres towards Japan. The missile exceeded the range of any previous sub-launched tests, in what the North's leader Kim Jong-Un hailed as the "greatest success".
Again in February, the North simultaneously fired four ballistic missiles off its east coast, three of which fell provocatively close to Japan, in what it said was a drill for an attack on US bases in the neighboring Asian country.
Experts believe that a nuclear-capable SLBM system would take the North's threat to a new level. It would allow deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a "second-strike" capability in the event of an attack on its military bases.
When Tillerson was asked if the development of a long-range ballistic missile would mark a red line for Trump, he said: "If we judge that they have perfected that type of delivery system, then that becomes a very serious stage of their further development."