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Vice President Pence Sends Warning To North Korea Amid Rising Tensions


Vice President Mike Pence is in South Korea as part of his trip to Asia. And while there, he sent a warning to North Korea.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: 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.

SIEGEL: That warning came a day after North Korea tried and failed to test a ballistic missile. There is concern that the country intends to test another nuclear bomb soon. And to discuss the latest developments, we go now to Tokyo, where NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following this visit. And Anthony, first, how was Mike Pence's message invoking Syria and Afghanistan received in the region?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, we haven't had a response from North Korea yet, Robert. They made their own show of force over the weekend with a military parade showing off various kinds of ballistic missiles and also a test launch that failed. That said, I don't think anyone in this region is under the illusion that the U.S. could do in North Korea what it did in Syria or Afghanistan. North Korea is in a much better position than those countries.

But really this visit by Pence is about strategic reassurance, reassuring allies and pointing to this willingness to use force as one way of doing that. Pence also used language like ironclad and immutable to describe the alliance with South Korea and mentioning the blood that allies have shed together in battle. Of course Mike Pence's father was a Korean War veteran, so that's a personal touch.

SIEGEL: You mentioned Pence speaking of the willingness to use force. Do people hear him saying that military force is likely to be used or that the U.S. has other diplomatic tricks up its sleeve?

KUHN: On this trip so far, Pence has basically repeated the language used by President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson, and he hasn't gone beyond that. One of the messages is that the U.S. wants to resolve this whole issue by peaceful means, but all options, including military ones, are on the table.

Second, he repeated president Trump's words that decades of so-called strategic patience by the U.S. are now over. North Korea cannot be allowed to progress any further one bomber missile tests at a time until they can hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile. And finally, he repeated Trump's message, which is that the U.S. is encouraged that China is willing to help with the North Korean issue. But if they fail to do so, then the U.S. and its allies will get the job done alone.

SIEGEL: How in that view is it seen that China might help with this problem?

KUHN: Well, at his summit meeting with President Trump this month in Mar-a-Lago, Fla., President Xi Jinping did promise to coordinate and communicate with the U.S. on the North Korean issue. They've already stopped importing coal from North Korea, but he did not appear to offer anything new, at least publicly.

China still has a lot it could do, things that are even more damaging like cutting all oil exports to North Korea. But China's bottom line remains that whatever they do to North Korea, it must not destabilize the country or cause the regime to collapse. So it's not at all certain that they would go as far as, say, cutting off the North's oil supply.

SIEGEL: What's next for Vice President Pence on his Asia tour?

KUHN: Vice President Pence will arrive here in Tokyo Tuesday. He'll be meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, we believe, and also Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso to talk about the trade relationship while in Japan. He'll be offering more strategic alliances to the U.S.'s main ally in Asia. And then he goes on to other allies and partners, including Australia and Indonesia. Most notably, China is absent for this trip. This is all about the allies in the region.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn. Anthony, thanks.

KUHN: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.