Rare briefing for entire US Senate on N. Korea

A US Defence Department handout photo showing the USS Michigan submarine arriving in Busan, South Korea, yesterday. It is set to join the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier in drills near the Korean peninsula.
A US Defence Department handout photo showing the USS Michigan submarine arriving in Busan, South Korea, yesterday. It is set to join the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier in drills near the Korean peninsula.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Session comes amid soaring tensions and US fears over pace of North's nuclear programme

WASHINGTON • Top US officials will hold a rare briefing today at the White House for the entire US Senate on the situation in North Korea, senior Senate aides have revealed.

All 100 senators have been asked to the White House for the briefing by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defence James Mattis, National Intelligence director Dan Coats and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Joseph Dunford, Reuters reported the aides as saying.

They "will be briefing all senators on the current strategic situation with regard to North Korea", Agence France-Presse quoted Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis as saying.

While lawmakers often receive classified briefings, these are usually conducted in secure rooms in the Capitol building and not at the White House. Officials said the briefing would take place in the auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which can be adapted for such an event, reported The Guardian.

The briefing comes at a time of soaring tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, and will take place at 3pm local time (3am Singapore time tomorrow). House aides said they were working with the White House to set up a similar briefing for members of the House of Representatives.

 
 

GOAL IS NOT TO START FIGHT

We are not going to do anything unless he (Kim Jong Un) gives us reason to do something, so our goal is not to start a fight... If you see him attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we're gonna do that. But right now, we're saying don't test, don't use nuclear missiles, don't try and do any more actions, and I think he's understanding that. And China's really helping us put that pressure on him.

US AMBASSADOR TO THE UN NIKKI HALEY, when asked in NBC's Today programme whether a pre-emptive strike was under consideration.

Behind the Trump administration's sudden urgency in dealing with the North Korean nuclear crisis lies a stark calculus - a growing body of expert studies and classified intelligence reports that conclude the country is capable of producing a nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks, reported The New York Times.

That acceleration in pace - impossible to verify until experts get beyond the limited access to North Korean facilities that ended years ago - explains why President Donald Trump and his aides fear they are running out of time.

For years, American presidents decided that each incremental improvement in the North's programme - another nuclear test, a new variant of a missile - was worrisome but not worth a confrontation that could spill into open conflict. Now those step-by-step advances have resulted in North Korean warheads that could reach Seattle in a few years. North Korea is threatening another nuclear test, which would be its sixth in 11 years.

The big effort these days is to merge two technologies - get a missile that can cross the Pacific, and marry it to a warhead that can survive the ride. And this is why the US is so desperate to stop the cycle of testing.

The strategy emerging from Mr Trump's national security team comes down to this: Apply overwhelming pressure on the North, both military and economic, to freeze its testing and reduce its stockpile. Then use that opening to negotiate, with the ultimate goal of getting the North Koreans to give up all their weapons.

Many experts, however, believe that is a fantasy, because North Korean leader Kim Jong Un regards even a small arsenal as critical to his survival. The upside of the strategy, if it works, is that the "nuclear freeze" would delay for years the day the North can fit a small, reliable, well-tested weapon atop a large, reliable, well-tested missile.

The downside is that it would leave the North Koreans with a small, potent arsenal - one the US would be essentially acknowledging, if not accepting. That is why it will be hard for Mr Trump to fulfil his vow to "solve this problem". And every day, there is the chance of miscalculation, or an accident.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Rare briefing for entire US Senate on N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe