(CNSNews.com) – In response to another ballistic missile firing by North Korea – the third since President Trump took office – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday night gave what may be the bluntest U.S. response yet to the provocative action.
“North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile,” he said. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”
Tillerson’s terse statement drew a lot of attention on social media, with reactions ranging from criticism for a perceived disinterested approach, to praise for denying Kim Jong-un the attention he craves, to speculation about what may be coming.
The 23-word statement marked a departure from previous State Department responses to launches by the Stalinist regime, which typically condemned each one, noted they contravened Security Council resolutions, called on Pyongyang to refrain from actions that increase tensions, and expressed support for regional allies.
The Trump administration has been reviewing North Korea policy and in recent weeks has signaled a shift to a tougher approach.
Briefing on background ahead of this week’s meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, a senior administration official said on Tuesday night – shortly before news of the missile launch broke – that “North Korea clearly is a matter of urgent interest for the president and the administration as a whole.”
The official said that Trump, on this issue as on many others, “is not someone who wants to broadcast all of the ins and outs of his strategy in advance.”
But, noting that the North Koreans had been offered dialogue and opportunities over the course of four U.S. administrations, the official added, “The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table for us.”
U.S. Pacific Command said it detected and tracked the launch and nine-minute long flight of what it assessed was a KN-15 medium range ballistic missile.
“The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined that the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” it said.
The solid-fuel KN-15, also known as Pukguksong-2, is believed to be the same variant as the one fired by North Korea last February, while Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago. On both occasions the missiles landed in the Sea of Japan.
A little under a month after the first Pukguksong-2 launch, North Korea on March 6 fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. Three landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
As is the case with its five nuclear tests since 2006, North Korea’s ballistic missile activities violate numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Over the past decade it has fired ballistic missiles on more than a dozen occasions, including three times last year, and now three times since Trump’s inauguration (a fourth attempt evidently failed on March 22.)
A day after the March 6 launch, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that beyond more robust sanctions, the administration was “also looking at other means” to underline its message to the North Koreans.
The following week Tillerson traveled to Japan, South Korea and China, and announced in Seoul on March 17 that “the policy of strategic patience has ended.”
“We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures,” he said alongside his South Korean counterpart. “All options are on the table.”
Upon Tillerson’s return, Toner said that he had made clear in his meetings in the region that “we can’t afford to give North Korea more time and space.”
“They are rapidly working to develop a nuclear capability and ways to deliver that capability in the region and, indeed, to the United States,’ Toner said Tillerson had said. “And that is a danger and we need to address it.
North Korea is expected to feature prominently when Trump meets with Xi on Thursday and Friday.
The senior administration official said Tuesday night Trump has put across clearly the message of how important it is “for China to begin exerting its considerable economic leverage to bring about a peaceful resolution” to the North Korea problem
In an interview with the Financial Times published early his week, Trump said it would be “very good for China” if it decides to help the U.S. resolve the North Korean issue.
But he added that if China does not “solve” the North Korean problem, “we will.”
Asked whether the U.S. could do so without China’s help, Trump was quoted as replying, “Totally.”