WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea on Monday against testing the U.S. military by continuing to develop its nuclear program, pointing to recent U.S. military action against the Syrian government and ISIS in Afghanistan as evidence of U.S. strength and resolve.
“Since 1992, the United States and our allies have stood together for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. We hope to achieve this objective through peaceable means. But all options are on the table,” Pence said during a joint statement in Seoul with acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn.
“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new President in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan. North Korea would do well not to test his resolve — or the strength of the Armed Forces of the United States in this region.”
The U.S. dropped a 21,600-pound bomb on ISIS in eastern Afghanistan last week, and earlier in the month fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian government airbase in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack against civilians.
Hours before Pence touched down in South Korea, for his first leg of a trip that will take him through Japan, Indonesia and Australia also, North Korea test launched its latest ballistic missile. The missile, which brought the number of launches to eight this year, blew up almost immediately, according to the U.S. military.
Pence reiterated the Trump administration position that the “era of strategic patience is over,” referencing the policy of prior administrations that attempted to impose crippling economic sanctions on the isolated nation with the view that it would eventually be in a state of economic disaster and be forced to negotiate.
President Donald Trump has said the U.S. is prepared to act alone to resolve the “North Korean problem,” but has also urged China to push North Korea to drop its weapons program. Trump has offered China trade concessions in return.
“The President and I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea, but as President Trump made clear just a few short days ago, if China is unable to deal with North Korea, the United States, and our allies, will,” Pence said.
Trump has been vague about what that response from the U.S. and its allies could be, repeating that he prefers not to signal his moves to adversaries.
On Friday, North Korean Vice Minister Han Song Ryol claimed that his country is prepared to retaliate against any actions taken against them.
“We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. pre-emptive strike,” Han told The Associated Press. “Whatever comes from the U.S., we will cope with it. We are fully prepared to handle it.”
Pence Monday urged China to not take economic retaliation against South Korea for hosting a U.S. missile defense system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).
The U.S. has said that it intends to move forward with the deployment of THAAD, no matter the pending May 9 snap election to replace impeached conservative president Park Geun-hye, who had agreed to host the system. The front runner is a progressive candidate, Moon Jae-in, who has said he intends to review the decision.