McMaster: Trump Has Asked for ‘Full Range of Options to Remove’ North Korean Threat

By Patrick Goodenough | April 10, 2017 | 4:17 AM EDT

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson sails in the South China Sea in March 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy/MC2 Z.A. Landers)

( – President Trump has asked his national security team to provide “a full range of options to remove” the threat posed by the North Korean regime to the U.S. and its allies, national security advisor H.R. McMaster said Sunday, a day after U.S. Pacific Command directed an aircraft carrier strike group to the region.

North Korea has reacted with characteristically bellicose rhetoric to last week’s U.S. cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase linked to a chemical weapons attack, charging that the U.S., “swaggering as a superpower,” carried out an “absolutely unpardonable” strike against the Assad regime.

“The reality of today shows that we must stand against power with power and it proves a million times over that our decision to strengthen our nuclear deterrence has been the right choice,” the KCNA news agency Sunday quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.

The Trump administration clearly intends Kim Jong-un to take seriously its willingness to act in support of what it says are crucial U.S. security interests.

Asked hours after the Syria strike whether it should be seen as sending a message more broadly with regard to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, “This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for.”

On Saturday, U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris announced he had directed the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its strike group – including a carrier air wing, two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers and a guided missile cruiser – to sail north to the western Pacific Ocean from Singapore, instead of making for Australia for scheduled port visits.

It was two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean that targeted the Syrian airbase with the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in the attack early last Friday morning local time.

Interviewed on Fox News Sunday McMaster, a U.S. Army lieutenant-general, was asked about the decision to send the strike group towards the Korean peninsula.

“Well, it’s prudent to do it, isn't it?” he replied. “North Korea has been engaged in a pattern of provocative behavior,” he said, calling it a “rogue regime that is now a nuclear capable regime.”

McMaster said Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping – who were holding two days of talks at Mar-a-Lago when the Syria airstrike took place – “agreed that that is unacceptable, that what must happen is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

“And so, the president has asked to be prepared to give him a full range of options to remove that threat the American people and to our allies and partners in the region.”

The regime in Pyongyang has carried out five nuclear tests over the past decade, including two last year. It has also test-fired numerous ballistic missiles of varying types and ranges, often into the Sea of Japan – most recently last Wednesday, the third such launch since Trump took office.

The U.S. has for years been trying to prod China, North Korea’s major trading partner and diplomatic partner, into taking firmer action against its neighbor.

Last week the administration sent several clear messages that its patience was running out.

In an interview with the Financial Times published last Sunday, Trump voiced the hope that Beijing would help with North Korea, but added that if it does not “solve” the problem, “we will.” Asked whether the U.S. could do so without China’s help, Trump replied, “Totally.”

Two days later, a senior administration official briefing on background ahead of the Trump-Xi talks said four U.S. administrations had offered North Korea dialogue and opportunities.

“The clock has now run out,” the official said, “and all options are on the table for us.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow