Vice President Mike Pence visited a military base on April 17 just outside the zone separating North and South Korea. He warned the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program and told reporters that the “patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out.”
The joint U.S.-South Korean military camp, Camp Bonifas, is located in South Korea near the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The area has divided North and South Korea for 64 years. While the Korean War technically ended with the 1953 Armistice, the North and South still consider themselves to be at war. Both nations maintain a military presence along the DMZ, and the border is filled with troops, mines, and fences.
Pence stood a few feet from the DMZ as he made his remarks. He said that the Trump administration hopes that China will pressure North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons. North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006. China is the North’s dominant trade partner, and has some influence over its government.
According to the Institute for Science and International Security, North Korea’s arsenal includes a handful of atomic weapons it can mount on missiles that can reach South Korea and Japan. The institute says it is doubtful that the North can build a warhead for a long-range missile that can strike the U.S. mainland.
A War of Words
The vice president’s unannounced visit to South Korea comes as tensions have deepened on the Korean Peninsula over the past week. On April 11, President Donald Trump tweeted: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” Four days later, as the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson approached the Korean Peninsula, North Korea conducted a failed launch of a missile.
North Korea has warned that it will take military action if the U.S. attempts to meddle with its nuclear program. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, North Korea’s Vice Minister Han Song Ryol said that Trump’s tweets toward the North were adding to a “vicious cycle” of tensions.
“Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words,” Han said. “If the U.S. comes with reckless military maneuvers then we will confront it with the DPRK's preemptive strike.” (DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.)
Pence is on a 10-day visit to Asia, and will make stops in Japan, Indonesia, and Australia. During the trip, he is explaining the Trump administration’s strategy for North Korea. The vice president is working to reassure allies in South Korea and Japan that the U.S. will take necessary steps to protect them from North Korean aggression. On April 17, Pence said in a joint statement alongside South Korean Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn that "all options are on the table" to deal with the North Korean threat.
Meanwhile, China called for negotiations toward a peaceful resolution. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the government wants to restart talks that ended in 2009.
In a television interview aired on April 16, U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said, “It’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully.” He also said that the United States “will take action that is in the best interest of the American people against any threat from North Korea.”