WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Donald Trump, asked Wednesday whether he would take military action against North Korea, said, "We will see what happens. Certainly, that is not the first choice."
Trump spoke at the White House following a telephone call with China’s president, Xi Jinping.
Asked by VOA what he'd discussed concerning North Korea with the Chinese leader, Trump replied that “President Xi would like to do something on North Korea,” but it was unclear “whether or not he can do it.”
Trump described his conversation with Xi as “very, very frank and very strong,” saying it “was a very good phone call. It lasted a long time.”
The president added that on the recent provocations by North Korea, Xi “agrees with me 100 percent. He does not want to see what is happening there either.”
Trump and Xi “committed to strengthen coordination and take further action with the goal of achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” according to a readout of the phone call issued by the White House.
Later, aboard Air Force One, Trump told reporters that Xi was “very much in favor of the de-nuke of North Korea” and that “we’re going to be talking again soon.”
The Chinese president told Trump there should be a peaceful settlement of the issue, adding that dialogue combined with a set of comprehensive measures was best for seeking a long-term solution, according to the Xinhua news agency.
In the past few days, Trump has spoken with counterparts in Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United Kingdom, telling them that opening discussions with North Korea was currently not the best option to address the country's growing nuclear weapons program, according to White House officials.
A flurry of conversations among regional and world leaders about North Korea has been prompted by Pyongyang's explosion of what it said, and several international experts concurred, was a hydrogen bomb at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site on Sunday. North Korean officials blamed Washington for the test, asserting it was necessary to “eradicate the hostile moves and nuclear threats of the U.S. going on for decades.”
South Korea is planning to deploy additional launchers of a controversial U.S.-built missile defense system, a further sign of escalating tensions and a diplomatic stalemate over North Korea's growing nuclear weapons program.
Additional THAAD launchers
The Defense Ministry announced Wednesday that four more rocket launchers that make up the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system would be installed along with the two launchers already in operation at a former golf course in Seongju.
China and Russia oppose deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea. They view the powerful radar-based system as a threat.
The news also prompted a demonstration by about 400 residents near the Seongju base, about 300 kilometers south of Seoul. Police clashed with the protesters, injuring some residents, according to South Korean news reports.
The announcement came as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told his South Korean counterpart, Song Young-moo, that Washington remained "ironclad" in its commitment to defend South Korea.
Mattis promised a "massive, effective and overwhelming military response" if South Korea and other U.S. allies were threatened, according to the Defense Department.
Along with bolstering its military, South Korean President Moon Jae-in explored a diplomatic solution to the standoff Wednesday during talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of an economic summit in Vladivostok. Both leaders agreed North Korea must end its nuclear and missile testing programs. But Putin again rejected imposing further sanctions on the isolated regime, maintaining that negotiations were the only means to resolve the issue.
Seeking new sanctions
The United States has circulated a draft of a new U.N. sanctions resolution about North Korea to Security Council members, pushing to get it to a vote next Monday.
The draft, obtained by VOA, calls for a ban on the sale of oil, refined petroleum products and natural gas liquids to North Korea.
Pyongyang imports nearly all of its oil and gas from China. Without it, experts say, the economy would quickly be strangled.
The U.S. draft also aims to cut off exports of North Korean textiles, which account for hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.
It also seeks to tighten restrictions on North Korea's ability to send its citizens to work in foreign countries, where they often are required to send their salaries home to the government.
In the most recent round of sanctions levied a month ago by the Security Council, countries were banned from allowing in more North Korean guest workers. The new draft would give states the right to expel any North Korean laborer it determined was sending his salary to the government.
Additionally, the text proposes five individuals and seven entities for asset freezes and travel bans as well for the individuals. Among those targeted are the North Korean national airline, Air Koryo, and the North Korean military (KPA).
The draft text reaffirms international support for a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution to the situation.
The text is being negotiated among council members this week. It was not immediately clear whether veto-wielding council members Russia and China would go along with such tough demands.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Wednesday for a return to talks, saying sanctions were not a solution. China also contends that further tightening sanctions against Pyongyang will do little to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on a flight back from North Dakota, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “If we don't get these additional sanctions at the U.N., as I mentioned over the weekend ... I have an executive order prepared, that's ready to go to the president that will authorize to stop doing trade and put sanctions on anybody that does trade with North Korea.”
VOA U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.