North Korea threat set to top agenda of UN general assembly

Rex Tillerson says US will use military force against rogue state if diplomatic efforts fail

US president Donald Trump is due to make his first address to the UN on Tuesday. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump is due to make his first address to the UN on Tuesday. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images


World leaders have begun gathering in New York for the United Nations general assembly, with North Korea expected to top the agenda as concerns grow about the rogue state’s nuclear activity.

Days after Pyongyang launched its 15th missile test this year, US president Donald Trump’s top advisers warned on Sunday that all options were on the table regarding North Korea.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson said that while the United States seeks a peaceful solution to end the nuclear standoff with North Korea, it was prepared to use military force if diplomatic efforts fail. “If our diplomatic efforts fail, though, our military option will be the only one left,” he said on Sunday. “But be clear: we seek a peaceful solution to this.”

Also speaking on Sunday, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said that military force was an option in dealing with North Korea as the international community runs out of diplomatic avenues. “We’ve pretty much exhausted all the things we can do at the security council at this point. I am perfectly happy to kick this on to general Mattis because he has plenty of options,” she said, referring to the US defence secretary.


Asked about Mr Trump’s warning last month that the North Korean threat would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Ms Haley said this comment was “not an empty threat”.

“If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behaviour, if the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies in any way, North Korea will be destroyed.” But she added: “None of us want that. None of us want war.”

Mr Trump is due to make his first address to the UN on Tuesday, a speech that will be highly anticipated given his previous criticisms of the institution which he said was “not a friend of democracy . . . not a friend of freedom . . . and not a friend to the United States”.

The president, who spent the weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, but was due to travel to his home in Trump Tower later on Sunday, spoke to South Korean president Moon Jae-In by phone ahead of the UN general assembly.

“I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!”, he said referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

The White House said in a statement after the call that both men “committed to continuing to take steps to strengthen deterrence and defence capabilities and to maximise economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea”.

The UN security council agreed its latest package of sanctions targeting North Korea last week, but days later Pyongyang launched its second missile test over Japan.


Mr Trump is due to meet the South Korea president and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on the fringes of the general assembly this week to discuss the crisis.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will represent Ireland at the week-long session, with Ireland due to address the 193-member assembly next Saturday. Mr Coveney is due to attend a meeting on the reform of the United Nations hosted by Mr Trump on Monday, followed by a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in the evening. Minister of State Ciarán Cannon will also be in attendance.

On Wednesday, Mr Coveney will sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a treaty that was co-sponsored by Ireland and was adopted in July. He is also due to take part in a number of bilateral meetings and IDA events in the coming days.