WASHINGTON – Senators received a rare briefing at the White House on Wednesday from the President Trump’s national security team on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has become one of the most pressing foreign policy challenges early on in the administration.
“Sobering briefing,” tweeted Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) after the briefing, hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. The President also briefly attended the event.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called it an “important” meeting. “We will never accept North Korea as a legitimate nuclear weapons power,” he tweeted.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told NBC News that North Korea’s “capacity is increasing and has increased significantly.”
After the meeting, Tillerson, Mattis, and Coats released a statement, calling North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons an “urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority”:
Today, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford, we briefed members of Congress on the review. The president’s approach aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners.
The statement said the administration is “engaging responsible members of the international community” – a veiled reference to China – to increase pressure on North Korea to de-escalate and return to the “path of dialogue.”
The statement also emphasized that the U.S. favors diplomacy over military action, but added that it remained “prepared to defend” itself and allies.
The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies.
Just weeks after Trump took office, North Korea test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile, on February 11. The regime then launched four ballistic missiles on March 6. On April 5, it launched another missile.