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(LEAD) Trump policy on N. Korea: 'Maximum pressure and engagement': report

2017/04/15 04:59

(ATTN: ADDS background, byline, photo)

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, April 14 (Yonhap) -- The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has finalized its North Korea policy that would focus on "maximum pressure and engagement" toward denuclearization of the communist nation, a news report said Friday.

The Associated Press cited unidentified U.S. officials saying that the current focus of the new policy is on ramping up pressure on Pyongyang with the help of China, the North's main benefactor, a strategy that Trump has long advocated.

Engagement remains an option, but the goal of engagement should be the North's denuclearization, not an arms control or reduction deal that would imply U.S. acceptance of Pyongyang as a nuclear power, the officials were quoted as saying.

The Trump administration reached the conclusion after a two-month review during which advisers to Trump weighed a range of ideas for how to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, including "military options and trying to overthrow the isolated communist dictatorship's leadership," according to AP.

Officials also looked at the notion of accepting North Korea as a nuclear state, the report said.

No further details were available.

The new policy does not appear much different from that of former President Barack Obama, known as "strategic patience," which centered on waiting for Pyongyang to show good faith while increasing sanctions and pressure on the regime.

That illustrates the grim reality that other than imposing tougher sanctions and strengthening deterrence and defensive measures against the provocative regime, there's not much the U.S. can do about it that does not risk a war.

Differences from the Obama policy, if any, would likely be the level of appeal and pressure the U.S. puts on China to exercise more of its leverage as the North's main food and energy provider to rein in the regime.

Before and after his first meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, Trump has repeatedly called for China to do more, holding out the prospect of a better trade deal with the U.S. if Beijing helps with the problem.

But many analysts say that China is unlikely to exercise genuine pressure on Pyongyang, something it has refused to do for decades, as Beijing fears that pushing the North too hard could result in instability in the neighboring nation and even its collapse, which could lead to the emergence of a pro-U.S. nation on its border.

The new policy came as tensions are running high on the Korean Peninsula amid fears that the North could carry out what would be its sixth nuclear test on Saturday to mark the birthday of late national founder Kim Il-sung, grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

Tensions spiked further as the U.S. has redirected an aircraft carrier strike group led by USS Carl Vinson to waters off the Korean Peninsula in a massive show of force designed to warn Pyongyang not to undertake any provocations.

A U.S. military official was quoted by AP as saying that the U.S. doesn't intend to use military force against the North in response to either a nuclear test or a missile launch. The official said plans could change in the unlikely event a North Korean missile targets South Korea, Japan or U.S. territory, according to AP.

jschang@yna.co.kr

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