WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Republican senator says he emerged from a dinner meeting with Donald Trump confident the president will not allow North Korea to build a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the United States.
"If I were North Korea, I would not underestimate President Trump's resolve to stop them from getting a missile to hit our homeland," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters Tuesday.
Graham joined Sen. John McCain of Arizona for the dinner at the White House on Monday evening. Graham and McCain are defense hawks and have been two of Trump's sharpest GOP critics on foreign policy matters. But both senators are backing Trump's approach on North Korea, which has threatened to use pre-emptive strikes or any other measures it deems necessary to defend itself against the "U.S. imperialists."
The Trump administration has warned that all options, including a military strike, are on the table to block North Korea from developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland. But a pre-emptive strike against North Korea's nuclear and missile facilities isn't likely. The Trump administration is instead seeking to put pressure on North Korea with the help of China.
Graham said it's uncertain whether North Korea may actually launch a weapon of mass destruction at the U.S. But, he said, Trump "is not going to allow this problem to get any worse than it is today." The key, Graham added, is to make North Korea realize there's a "new sheriff in town."
McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, declined to discuss the specifics of the meeting with the president. But he said the Trump administration's tough talk of defusing North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs is justified.
"Obviously you have to follow words with action, but I think their expressed concern is very legitimate. And I don't think it's inflammatory rhetoric," McCain said. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "is intent on having the capability to strike the United States of America. That is the threat."
McCain said Trump is "exploring all options" on North Korea. But a pre-emptive strike, he said, "would be the last one."
In a show of force, Trump has dispatched to waters near the Korean Peninsula what he's called an "armada" of ships, including an aircraft carrier. South Korea's navy is planning to hold joint naval drills with U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson battle group, which has trained with Japanese destroyers in recent days, around the weekend.
Trump also has sought to press Chinese President Xi Jinping to exert greater pressure on North Korea, given China's status as the country's economic lifeline and sole major ally.
McCain said he welcomed the outreach to China. But he also criticized Beijing for repeatedly refusing to use its influence to bring North Korea to the negotiating table and curb what McCain considers Pyongyang's bellicose behavior.
"Instead, China has chosen to bully South Korea for exercising its sovereign right to defend itself from the escalating North Korean threat," McCain said, referring to a decision to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to the Korean Peninsula. China, in response, has waged a campaign of economic retaliation against South Korea, which McCain said has inflicted real damage.
"The twisted reality is that China is doing all of this to stop the deployment of a missile defense system, which is only necessary because China has aided and abetted North Korea for decades," he said.
Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner