US President Donald Trump struck a more conciliatory tone towards North Korea on Tuesday, urging Pyongyang to “come to the table and make a deal” to end the nuclear standoff.
Meeting with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in in Seoul, Trump said he was prepared to use the full range of US military power to stop any attack, but “we hope to God” not to have to resort to it.
The comments contrasted with his previous threats of unleashing “fire and fury” against North Korea if it attacked US interests or allies.
“We cannot allow North Korea to threaten all that we have built,” Trump said after talks with Moon, who has called for diplomatic talks with Pyongyang.
“We call on every responsible nation, including China and Russia, to demand that the North Korean regime end its nuclear weapons and its missile programs and live in peace. As the South Korean people know so well it’s time to act with urgency and with great determination,” he added.
But Trump also urged North Korea to “do the right thing” and added that: “I do see some movement,” though he declined to elaborate.
“It really makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal,” he said.
Meeting with military commanders about the North Korea issue, Trump also told reporters: “Ultimately it will all work out, it always works out, it has to work out.” He did not elaborate.
Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests in defiance of United Nations resolutions and a war of words between Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un have raised tensions and unease across the peninsula.
Trump particularly rattled some US allies with his vow to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the United States and by deriding Kim as a “Rocket Man on a suicide mission”. Kim responded by calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard”.
On Tuesday, Trump toured the sprawling Camp Humphreys garrison, which lies about 100 km from the border with North Korea, and met commanders and troops.
He said the North must understand the “unparalleled strength” that Washington had at its disposal. He cited three US aircraft carrier strike groups converging on the Western Pacific for exercises as well as a nuclear submarine he said was also in position.
“No Trump, No War”
Several hundred supporters and protesters lined the streets of downtown Seoul as the president’s motorcade drove by. Some cheered him while others chanted, “No Trump, No War”, and demanded he apologise for his belligerent rhetoric.
North Korea has not conducted a missile test for 53 days, the longest such lull in testing this year. South Korea’s spy agency said last week that Pyongyang may be preparing another missile test, raising speculation that such a launch could be timed for Trump’s trip to the region.
The North accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, of planning to invade it, which Washington denies.