The United States does not intend to use military force against North Korea in response to a nuclear test or a missile launch, despite a report by NBC News, a U.S. military official told the Associated Press (AP) on Friday.
The clarification came after NBC News tweeted on Thursday evening, “U.S. may launch preemptive strike if North Korea reaches for nuclear trigger,” along with an exclusive story.
The report caused consternation among defense officials that it would cause a misunderstanding with North Korea.
A Fox News Pentagon correspondent later tweeted, “Multiple sr defense officials say this report is ‘wildly wrong’ ‘crazy.’ Pentagon pushing back on NBC report, call it ‘extremely dangerous'”:
Multiple sr defense officials say this report is "wildly wrong" "crazy." Pentagon pushing back on NBC report, call it "extremely dangerous." https://t.co/BLnoPHnhj9
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) April 13, 2017
A U.S. official speaking to Breitbart News did not dispute the Associated Press’s characterization and added, “Our intent is to avoid miscalculation or escalation and we’re planning accordingly.”
The AP report did say, however, that the U.S. does not intend to use force in response to a nuclear test or a missile launch but that plans could change in the “unlikely event” a North Korean missile targets South Korea, Japan, or U.S. territory.
Anticipation is mounting about what North Korea might do on Saturday, the anniversary of its founder’s birthday. North Korea has announced a “big event” that could either be a military parade showing off new missiles or a sixth nuclear weapons tests that would violate international law.
Trump has warned North Korea and China, its main ally, that if its nuclear weapons program continued to advance, the U.S. would take care of it alone.
Last week, Trump announced he was sending an aircraft carrier strike group towards North Korea as the anniversary approached.
On Friday, North Korean officials accused Trump of “aggressive tweets,” arguing U.S. aggression is the reason it needs to maintain a nuclear weapons program.
Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea were already high after U.S. forces conducted their yearly major military exercise with South Korea, Foal Eagle, which North Korea views as a drill for invasion.
Trump’s tough rhetoric appears to be part of a new strategy that administration officials are calling “maximum pressure and engagement.”
The strategy, as reported by the AP, will consist of increasing pressure on North Korea with the help of China.
The focus is currently on “pressure,” officials told the AP.
The stakes are high. North Korea has made strides in its nuclear weapons program and has vowed to produce a weapon that can strike the United States. Trump has warned that it would not happen.
North Korea has not yet proven it has the ability to do so, but experts believe they could within a few years.
David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, estimated that North Korea could already have as many as 30 nuclear bombs.
“The bottom line is that North Korea has an improving nuclear weapons arsenal,” Albright told the AP.
The goal of the new strategy would be North Korea’s denuclearization, not an arms control agreement, or reduction of its arsenal or acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear power.
China has taken encouraging steps within the past week. It has turned back boats carrying North Korean coal exports and abstained–not vetoed–a vote at the United Nations on a resolution condemning a chemical weapons attack in Syria that the U.S. and the West believe the regime executed.
China habitually votes with Russia, who vetoed the resolution, but this time, it abstained.