Vice President Mike Pence said at a news conference in South Korea on Monday that American "strategic patience" concerning North Korea has come to an end. "On behalf of the president of the United States, my message to the people of South Korea is this: We are with you 100 percent. Even in these troubled times, we stand with you for a free and secure future," Pence said at a joint conference while Acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo Ahn stood at his side. "The United States' commitment to South Korea is ironclad and immutable. And under President Trump's leadership, I know our alliance will even be stronger."
Pence said that the "era of strategic patience is over."
Afterward, Pence told CNN that American policy regarding North Korea over the last two decades and in the previous administration amounted to a "failed policy." As examples of the Trump administration’s “resolve,” Pence offered the recent U.S. strikes in Syria and Afghanistan. "Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan," he said after the press conference. "North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region."
Pence added that North Korea's most steadfast ally, China, has been increasingly helpful with regard to North Korean nuclear proliferation. This came as a result of Trump’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month. "I know the president was heartened by his discussions with President Xi. We've seen China begin to take some actions to bring pressure on North Korea but there needs to be more," Pence said.
"Resolving this issue requires all relevant parties, especially parties that bear major responsibility and play a key role in this issue, to work in the same direction and make a joint effort," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told the press on Monday.
There was not total agreement among Republicans about the Trump administration’s policy toward North Korea. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Trump is “growing” into his job as Commander in Chief but said that a Trump geopolitical doctrine is still "not apparent." Speaking on NBC, McCain said on Sunday that the North Korean issue could be Trump’s first real test.
Also on Sunday, North Korea’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Kim In Rong said that the United States has pushed the Korean Peninsula to “the brink of war.” "It has been created dangerous situation in which the thermonuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula and pose a serious threat to the world's peace and security, to say nothing of those of northeast Asia," he said.
Meanwhile, three U.S. aircraft carriers are steaming toward the Korean Peninsula. CVN-70 Carl Vinson is expected to arrive on April 25, while CVN-76 Ronald Reagan is expected to steam from its home port at Yokosuka, Japan. In addition, the CVN-68 Nimitz carrier group is to enter the Sea of Japan next week.
The presence of three carrier groups in the same area is unusual. According to the Yonhap news service of South Korea, their presence demonstrates American commitment to challenging North Korea.
On Sunday, North Korea launched a missile that failed soon after lifting off. In the media, there is speculation that an undetectable computer virus supposedly introduced by the U.S. may have been the cause for the failure.
National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster echoed language used by Defense Secretary James Mattis to describe North Korea’s “provocative and destabilizing and threatening behavior.” On ABC’s “This Week,” McMaster said Trump had directed the National Security Council to collaborate with the Defense and State Departments, and intelligence agencies to “provide options and have them ready for him if this pattern of destabilizing behavior continues.”
Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.