US President Donald Trump issued a fresh warning to North Korea on Monday, saying the time for “strategic patience” is over.
He spoke in Japan after winning Japan’s backing for his policy of considering all options to rein in the rogue state.
Trump described the North’s nuclear programme as “a threat to the civilised world and international peace and stability” on the second day of his Asia tour dominated by the crisis.
He had signalled in the past that Washington could look beyond a diplomatic solution to the North’s nuclear weapons ambitions and consider military intervention.
“The era of strategic patience is over,” he declared alongside his host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Under former President Barack Obama, the United States had ruled out engaging the North until it made a tangible commitment to de-nuclearisation.
Washington hoped sanctions pressure and internal stresses in the isolated country would bring about change but critics said the policy gave Pyongyang room to push ahead with its nuclear ambitions.
Close ally Abe echoed Trump’s remarks, voicing Japan’s support for Washington’s policy that “all options are on the table” to deal with the North Korean threat — including military force.
Abe, whose country is in the firing line of North Korean missiles, also announced Japanese sanctions on the assets of 35 North Korean groups and individuals.
The United Nations has adopted multiple rounds of sanctions against the reclusive North, the most recent in September following its sixth nuclear test and a flurry of missile launches.
Earlier, Trump had appeared to adopt a more conciliatory tone towards North Korea, saying he would not rule out talks with its bellicose young leader Kim Jong-Un.
“I would sit down with anybody,” he said. “I don’t think it’s strength or weakness, I think sitting down with people is not a bad thing,” he said in a television interview.
“So I would certainly be open to doing that but we’ll see where it goes, I think we’re far too early.”
And the president again praised the “great people” of North Korea, adding: “they are under a very repressive regime” and that he hoped it “works out for everyone.”
But Pyongyang showed no sign of let-up in its attacks on Trump, with ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun calling him the “lunatic old man of the White House” and saying there was no telling when he would start a nuclear war.
Abe and Trump’s joint news conference capped two days of chummy behaviour in which the two golf fans have teed off for nine holes and enjoyed informal and relaxed dinners.
Abe said they had enjoyed each other’s company so much over a dinner of scallops and steak on Sunday night that they lost track of time, while Trump said their relationship was “extraordinary.”
The trip has also provided lighter moments, such as when Trump appeared to lose patience feeding koi carp in the imperial palace and tipped his whole box into the pond, to the evident amusement of his secretary of state.