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Trump Talked Tough, but What's His Plan for Denuclearizing North Korea?

  • Jenny Lee

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 19, 2017.

President Donald Trump warned North Korea over its nuclear weapons development in his debut address to the U.N. General Assembly, but he failed to offer a concrete strategy on how to denuclearize the communist state, experts say.

Speaking before world leaders gathered at U.N. headquarters in New York on Tuesday, the president of the United States, who has recently escalated his rhetoric against North Korea, doubled down on unleashing scathing criticisms toward "the depraved regime."

If Pyongyang launches an attack on the U.S. or its allies, Trump said, there is "no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."

Rand Corporation defense analyst Bruce Bennett told VOA's Korean Service that Trump's statements were delivered in terms that the regime would understand, and meant to be a clear message to Kim about what will happen if North Korea uses its nuclear weapons.

FILE - People watch a TV screen showing a local news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 16, 2017.
FILE - People watch a TV screen showing a local news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 16, 2017.

"President Trump is being clear that the United States will not accept North Korean nuclear weapon deployment," Bennett said. "The president is saying that if North Korea starts a war and uses nuclear weapons, the North Korean regime will be destroyed."

Trump's warnings, although strong and resolute, were in the context of a U.S. response to a North Korean attack, said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst who is now senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

"It is less indicative of a potential U.S. military attack to prevent Pyongyang from completing development of an ICBM" (intercontinental ballistic missile) capable of threatening the U.S. with nuclear weapons, Klingner said. "Trump's speech was a call to action by the U.N. to more forthrightly respond to North Korea's actions which pose a threat to all U.N. member nations, and not just the United States and its allies."

Michael Green, a former Asia adviser to former president George W. Bush, also said Trump's remarks indicate the possibility of a "fierce" U.S. response should North Korea attack, but not a pre-emptive strike to stop North Korea's weapons programs.

FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 16, 2017.
FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 16, 2017.

Some experts noted Trump failed to take advantage of the rare opportunity to more fully articulate how the U.S. would denuclearize the regime that is posing a dire threat. By conducting tests of a nuclear device and various missiles including ICBMs and mid-range rockets that flew over Japan, the regime this year proved to the world that it is making progress toward its stated goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile that could hit the U.S. mainland.

"This is very strong rhetoric from President Trump," said Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses. "The question is, what is the strategy behind the speech?"

Frank Jannuzi, president and CEO of the Mansfield Foundation, said Trump should have done more than flex his muscles in the address.

"I feel that the president's remarks to the U.N. on North Korea present more of a posture than a policy ... and there's really nothing new about Trump's strategy to respond decisively to any [North Korean] attack on the United States or its allies," Jannuzi said. "We should be presenting to the international community a comprehensive plan of how we intend to pursue peace and security and denuclearization on the Korean peninsula."

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