President Donald Trump delivered a blunt message to North Korea on Wednesday, saying “do not underestimate us,” but he also signaled a willingness to negotiate as he wrapped up a visit to the South that put him on the communist state’s doorstep.
Trump made his remarks in a speech to South Korea’s National Assembly after returning from a failed effort to fly to the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula. His helicopter had to turn back to Seoul because of poor visibility.
“I want peace through strength,” Trump told hundreds of South Korean and U.S. dignitaries, including first lady Melania Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Trump reiterated that the U.S. military has three aircraft carriers that are “loaded to the maximum” in the vicinity of the Korean Peninsula as well as nuclear submarines that he said were “appropriately positioned.”
Trump began his speech by outlining in great detail the successes that prosperous South Korea has achieved since the end of the 1950-53 war that pitted it against its communist neighbor to the north. He had only harsh words for Kim Jong Un’s regime, calling it a “hell no person deserves.”
The president also criticized past U.S. policy toward the North, which has shown rapid progress in its nuclear weapons program over the past year and a half. He vowed to defend the U.S. homeland as well as its allies.
“The regime has interpreted America’s past restraint as weakness. This would be a fatal miscalculation,” he said. “Today I hope I speak not only for our country but for all civilized nations when I say to the North do not underestimate us and do not try us.”
“America does not seek conflict … but we will never run from it. History is filled with discarded regimes that have foolishly tested America’s resolve,” he added.
But Trump also appeared to extend an opening to resume long-stalled negotiations, saying “we will offer a path to a much better future” if the regime stops its aggression and missile tests and agrees to “complete, verifiable and total denuclearization.”
North Korea has long insisted its nuclear weapons program is not up for negotiations, but experts have suggested there may be room for a freeze in order to allow talks to begin.
As he prepared to leave later Wednesday for China, the third leg of his first official trip to Asia, the president also appealed to all countries to cut off support for the North.
“We call on every nation, including China and Russia, to fully implement sanctions, downgrade diplomatic relations and sever all ties of trade and technology,” he said. “The longer we wait the greater the danger grows and the fewer the options become.”
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