United States President Donald Trump adopted a more conciliatory approach towards North Korea on Tuesday when he called on it to "come to the table" and "make a deal."
He made his remarks during an official visit to South Korea, where he warned however that he was prepared to use the full range of US military power to stop any North Korean attack in wake of Pyongyang’s nuclear drive.
He said after holding talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul while “we hope to God” not to have to use all of the United States’ military might, he was ready to do whatever was necessary to prevent the “North Korean dictator” from threatening millions of lives.
“We cannot allow North Korea to threaten all that we have built,” Trump said.
But at times taking a more measured, less confrontational tone, Trump also urged North Korea to “do the right thing” and said: “I do see some movement”, though he declined to elaborate.
“It really makes sense for North Koreas to come to the table and make a deal,” Trump told reporters at a joint news conference with Moon, who has supported diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang.
Moon, who has been eager to solidify a friendship with Trump, said he hoped the president's visit would be a moment of inflection in the stand-off with North Korea and said the two leaders had "agreed to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue in peaceful manner" that would "bring permanent peace" to the peninsula.
"I know that you have put this issue at the top of your security agenda," said Moon.
"So I hope that your visit to Korea and to the Asia Pacific region will serve as an opportunity to relieve some of the anxiety that the Korean people have due to North Korea's provocations and also serve as a turning point in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue."
Despite Trump’s renewed threats against North Korea, it was still a far cry from the more strident approach he has pursued in recent months, including his previous dismissal of any diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang as a waste of time.
Landing earlier at Osan Air Base outside Seoul, the president and First Lady Melania Trump stepped down from Air Force One onto a red carpet as he began a visit that could aggravate tension with North Korea.
He then flew by helicopter to Camp Humphreys, the largest US military base in the country, and met US and South Korean troops, along with Moon.
The White House billed Trump’s trip as intended to demonstrate US resolve over a hardline approach to the North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
But many in the region have expressed fear that his bellicose rhetoric toward Pyongyang could increase the potential for a devastating military conflict on the Korean peninsula.
Meeting with military commanders about the North Korea issue, Trump told reporters: “Ultimately it will all work out, it always works out, it has to work out.” He did not elaborate.
Trump praised Moon, hailing him for “great cooperation” despite differences over how to confront North Korea and over a trade pact between the United States and South Korea.
Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests in defiance of UN resolutions and an exchange of insults between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have raised the stakes in the most critical international challenge of Trump’s presidency.
At the news conference, Trump said Pyongyang must understand the “unparalleled strength” that Washington had at its disposal.
He cited three US aircraft carrier strike groups that are converging on the Western Pacific for exercises as well as a nuclear submarine he said was also in position.
Trump is seeking to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang following a visit to Tokyo, where he declared that Japan would shoot North Korean missiles “out of the sky” if it bought the US weaponry needed to do so, suggesting the Japanese government take a stance it has avoided until now.
Much like he did in his visit to Japan, Trump indicated he would place the interlocking issues of security and trade at the heart of his South Korea visit. He praised Seoul for significant purchases of American military equipment and urged the two nations to have more equitable trade relationship.
Moon said the two agreed on lifting the warhead payload limits on South Korean ballistic missiles and cooperating on strengthening South Korea's defense capabilities through the acquisition or development of advanced weapons systems.
Trump also pushed his economic agenda, saying that the current US-Korea trade agreement was "not successful and not very good for the United States." But he said that he had a "terrific" meeting scheduled on trade, adding, "hopefully that'll start working out and working out so that we create lots of jobs in the United States, which is one of the very important reasons I'm here."
Trump is skipping the customary trip to the demilitarized zone separating north and south — a pilgrimage made by every US president except one since Ronald Reagan as a demonstration of solidarity with the South.