President Donald Trump is delivering a blunt warning to North Korea: “Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.”
In a speech in South Korea, US president tells Pyongyang it will face disaster unless leader abandons his nuclear ambitions
Donald Trump has delivered a stark personal message to Kim Jong-un, saying North Korea will face disaster unless he gives up his nuclear ambitions.
Speaking in front of lawmakers at South Korea’s national assembly, the US president offered a “brighter path” if Pyongyang abandoned its weapons programme, leaving the door open to diplomacy, but also warned that the US was prepared to use military means if necessary.
“The weapons that you are acquiring are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger,” he said. “Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.”
Trump has spent two days in South Korea as part of his 12-day tour of east Asia. Addressing Kim directly, he said “despite every crime you have committed against God and man”, the US was prepared to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
“We will offer a path to a much better future,” he said. “It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to your development of ballistic missiles, and complete, verifiable and total denuclearisation.”
But Trump also issued a warning to the regime, saying: “Do not underestimate us. Do not try us.”
He said the US would not tolerate threats to its cities and “would not be intimidated”.
“North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned, it is a hell that no person deserves,” he told Pyongyang.
Trump gave a blistering assessment of life inside the reclusive dictatorship, highlighting a host of human rights abusesincluding forced labour, arbitrary detentions and famine.
Park Ju-min, a lawmaker who attended the speech, said: “It’s good that he didn’t make any comments that will enrage North Korea.
“Of course, North Korea will feel offended because of Trump’s focus on human rights abuses, but he did not make any specific threats against Kim.”
Park added that he was hoping to hear more about improving communication between South Korea and the US, saying he was worried about the US acting unilaterally in dealing with North Korea.
Trump said the world would not tolerate “the menace of a rogue regime” and further nuclear provocations. He also called on China and Russia to help resolve the nuclear crisis by downgrading diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and severing all trade ties.
China is North Korea’s most important diplomatic ally and largest trading partner, and Trump has long said Beijing holds the key to controlling Kim’s regime. After speaking in Seoul, Trump flew to Beijing, where he will meet Xi Jinping on Thursday on the next leg of his tour.
“It is our responsibility and our duty to confront this danger together,” he said. “The longer we wait, the great[er] the danger grows and the fewer the options become.”
But in a briefing onboard Air Force One, senior US officials admitted efforts to open a dialogue with North Korea had been “discouraging”. Any discussions where it was not open to giving up its nuclear weapons were “a non-starter”, a White House official said, adding that any agreement must include inspections.
Before the speech, Trump was forced to abandon a surprise visit to the demilitarised zone separating South Korea and North Korea. A heavy fog prevented the president’s helicopter from landing on a trip that was meant to show support for US allies in the region and has been a tradition of past presidents.
Min Pyung-doo, a lawmaker in the ruling Democratic party, said of Trump’s speech: “He had some tough words, but the real message is that there is a path to peace through dialogue.
“He reassured us and the world that the alliance with South Korea is strong and that will go a long way to calming the people’s fears here.”
The US president has struck a more conciliatory tone during his two days in South Korea, placing greater emphasis on diplomatic efforts. He said there was “progress” in resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis during a press conference on Tuesday, but declined to give details.
The same day, North Korea showed little sign of giving up its nuclear programme. A commentary in the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ party said “we will further bolster our nuclear, treasured sword of justice” if the US continues “hostile acts”.
At no other point on his 13-day tour of Asia will Trump have a similar opportunity to lay out at length his plan to help secure American allies while also pursuing aggressive trade policies he believes will put the United States on fairer footing.
Drafts of the speech were in the works for weeks, officials say, with input from Trump’s top national security aides like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser HR McMaster. Trump’s speechwriter Stephen Miller is accompanying the President in Asia.
The address drew heavily upon the long history of American military support for South Korea, with references to the Korean War-era Inchon landings and the Battle of Pork Chop Hill that featured tens of thousands of American servicemen flooding the peninsula to counter the advance of communism on the peninsula.
Trump used the economic successes of South Korea in the decades since that war to further deride the hermit nation to the north.
“North Korea is a country ruled by a cult. At the center of this military cult is a deranged belief in the ruler’s destiny to rule as a parent protector over a conquered Korean Peninsula,” Trump said. “The more successful South Korea becomes the more successfully you discredit the dark fantasy at the heart of the North Korean regime.”
Meanwhile, Pyongyang was closely watching Trump’s key speech, according to North Korean officials authorized to speak to CNN on behalf of the regime.
The officials told CNN’s Will Ripley ahead of the address that North Korea is not yet interested in talks with the United States despite Trump’s conciliatory tone in South Korea. US officials point out three American citizens are currently in North Korean custody, and any diplomacy would also need to involve discussions for their release.
According to officials in North Korea and the United States, diplomatic channels are still closed after Trump’s fiery UN speech in September. However, North Korea won’t rule out future talks, but still feels the need to prove their nuclear capabilities, which means more tests, the officials said.
South Koreans gathered to mark Trump’s address, with local police protectively lining the streets.
CNN’s Paula Hancocks reported: “More Trump supporters than protestors today. Some traveled from other side of the country to welcome him.”