North Korea threat ‘increasing every day’, US security chief says

HR McMaster says China should impose more ‘severe’ sanctions on Pyongyang

Experts say North Korea's new intercontinental ballistic missile is its most advanced yet. Here's why. Video: New York Times

 

The potential for a US war with North Korea is growing each day, US president Donald Trump’s national security adviser has said.

HR McMaster said North Korea is “the greatest immediate threat to the United States”.

“I think it’s increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem,” he said at the Reagan National Defence Forum in Simi Valley, California.

Asked about North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test this week, Mr McMaster said Mr Trump was committed to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

He said China could impose more stringent economic sanctions against North Korea, saying it has “tremendous coercive economic power” over Pyongyang.

“There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because [Kim Jong-un is] getting closer and closer, and there’s not much time left,” CNN quoted Mr McMaster as saying.

“We’re asking China not to do us or anybody else a favour,” he said. “We’re asking China to act in China’s interest, as they should, and we believe increasingly that it’s in China’s urgent interest to do more.”

Mr McMaster said China should cut off North Korean oil imports: “You can’t shoot a missile without fuel.” He added that both he and Mr Trump felt a 100 per cent oil embargo would “be appropriate at this point”.

He said Mr Kim was unlikely to scale back on his missile programme “without some significant new actions in the form of much more severe sanctions” and “complete enforcement of the sanctions that are in place”.

Anti-missile defences

Meanwhile, the US agency tasked with protecting the country from missile attacks is scouting the West Coast for places to deploy new anti-missile defences, two Congressmen said on Saturday, as North Korea’s missile tests raise concerns about how the United States would defend itself from an attack.

West coast defences would likely include Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-ballistic missiles, similar to those deployed in South Korea to protect against a potential North Korean attack.

The accelerated pace of North Korea’s ballistic-missile-testing programme in 2017 and the likelihood the North Korean military could hit the US mainland with a nuclear payload in the next few years has raised pressure on the US government to build up missile defences.

Last week, North Korea tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can fly over 13,000km (8,080 miles), placing Washington within target range, South Korea said on Friday.

Congressman Mike Rogers, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee which oversees missile defence, said the Missile Defence Agency (MDA), was aiming to install extra defences at west coast sites. The funding for the system does not appear in the 2018 defence budget plan indicating potential deployment is further off.

“It’s just a matter of the location, and the MDA making a recommendation as to which site meets their criteria for location, but also the environmental impact,” the Alabama congressman and Republican told Reuters during an interview on the sidelines of the annual Reagan National Defence Forum in southern California.

When asked about the plan, MDA deputy director Rear Admiral Jon Hill said in a statement: “The Missile Defence Agency has received no tasking to site the Terminal High Altitude Air Defence System on the west coast.”

The MDA is a unit of the US defence department.

West coast

Mr Rogers did not reveal the exact locations the agency is considering but said several sites are “competing” for the missile defence installations.

Mr Rogers and congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat representing the ninth district of Washington, said the government was considering installing the THAAD anti-missile system made by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp, at west coast sites.

The congressmen said the number of sites that may ultimately be deployed had yet to be determined.

THAAD is a ground-based regional missile defence system designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and takes only a matter of weeks to install. – (Agencies)