President Donald Trump's secretary of state Rex Tillerson issued an ominous statement in response to yet another North Korean missile launch on Wednesday morning Pyongyang Time, writing "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."
The statement closely follows a report that an anonymous White House official suggested to CNN that Trump's administration is now considering some form of military response.
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Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
A missile is carried by a military vehicle during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Engineers check the base of Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
A North Korean scientist looks at a monitor showing the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology on the outskirts of Pyongyang April 11, 2012. North Korea said on Wednesday it was injecting fuel into a long-range rocket ahead of a launch condemned by its neighbours and the West. The launch is set to take place between Thursday and next Monday and has prompted neighbours such as the Philippines to re-route their air traffic. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
North Korean soldiers salute in a military vehicle carrying a missile during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's nuclear test, in Seoul, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Workers construct a new nuclear reactor in the North Korean village of
Kumho in this file photo taken August 7, 2002. The United States urged
North Korea December 21, 2002 not to restart a nuclear reactor
suspected of being used to make weapons-grade plutonium. The
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that North Korea had
disabled surveillance devices the agency had placed at the
five-megawatt Nyongbyong reactor. REUTERS/Lee Jae-won/File Photo
A passenger walks past a television report on North Korea's nuclear test at a railway station in Seoul February 12, 2013. North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday, South Korea's defence ministry said, after seismic activity measuring 4.9 magnitude was registered by the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicentre of the seismic activity, which was only one km below the Earth's surface, was close to the North's known nuclear test site. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A scientist stands beside the Kwangmyongsong-3 application satellite, to be put onto the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
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"The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table," the official said. The language about "all options" is a standard reference to the willingness to use military force, but such a statement in concert with the clock having run out is new compound threat.
This weekend, Trump told the Financial Times he would pressure Chinese President Xi Jinping at an upcoming meeting to take action on North Korea's missile program, or "we will."
"Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will," Trump said. "That is all I am telling you."
"China has great influence over North Korea," Trump continued. "And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won't. And if they do that it will be very good for China, and if they don't, it won't be good for anyone."
Is Trump bluffing?
The president is likely correct that unilateral action on North Korea "won't be good for anyone." As the New York Times noted in March, air strikes on North Korean military targets could easily fail to stop the country from deploying some of its nuclear arsenal — the full capacities of which are currently unknown. A regional conventional war would be devastating, the Times wrote, as Kim Jong-un "almost certainly" has the capability to use artillery, chemical or nuclear weapons against urban targets in South Korea like Seoul, "potentially killing millions."
But Trump has long indicated he considers autocrat Kim Jong-un a major threat. On the campaign trail, he called the dictator's takeover after predecessor Kim Jong-Il "incredible," warning "we can't play games with him. Because he really does have missiles. And he really does have nukes."
In January, Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, wrote in Foreign Policythat "the whole policy debate has been an absurd carnival of panic, bellicosity and partisanship," despite the possibility of stalling North Korean missile tests via diplomatic means. Republicans in Congress have remained hawkish on foreign policy even after the fallout of the United States' last major war in Iraq, and the House recently voted to condemn North Korea over the missile tests.
The upcoming meeting between Trump and the Chinese president may give the opportunity for a more constructive course of action, though as Foreign Policynoted, Trump appears to have an unrealistic view of China's leverage over Kim.