In the midst of a 10-day Asia trip, Vice President Pence made an unannounced visit to the 4km-wide heavily-mined demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas where he met with troops, encouraged China to take action against North Kore, and warned Pyongyang that after years of testing the U.S. and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, "the era of strategic patience is over."
As the brown bomber jacket-clad vice president was briefed near the military demarcation line, two North Korean soldiers watched from a short distance away, one taking multiple photographs of the American visitor, according to AP.
Pence said he was “heartened” by early signs from China and hoped its leaders would “use the extraordinary levers they have” to prod Kim into giving up his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. He repeated President Donald Trump’s warning that the U.S. would act without China if necessary. “Either China will deal with this problem or the United States and its allies will,” Pence said on Monday. “We want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path.”
a few more scenes from the dmz pic.twitter.com/lqBwrt0pzm— Justin Sink (@justinsink) April 17, 2017
“President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change,” Pence told reporters. “We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”
Pence praised the “historic, iron-clad alliance” between the US and South Korea, not ruling out a military solution of the Korean standoff. “All options are on the table to achieve the objectives and ensure the stability of the people of this country,” said Pence, while adding that Trump would not discuss specific military tactics.
He said the relationship with South Korea is "ironclad and immutable" and reiterated the "resolve of the people of the United States and the President of the United States" to achieve security "through peaceable means, through negotiations. "But all options are on the table as we continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of South Korea for denuclearization of this peninsula and for the long term prosperity and freedom of the people of South Korea," he added.
He said he was hopes China would help solve the problem, adding, "we look for them to do more."
"The message of the people of the United States of America is that we seek peace, but America has always sought peace through strength."
Asked for a message to the people of North Korea, Pence said: "The people of North Korea, the military of North Korea should not mistake the resolve of the United States of America to stand with our allies. The alliance between South Korea and the United States is ironclad."
Pointing to the quarter-century since the United States first confronted North Korea over its attempts to build nuclear weapons, the vice president said a period of patience had followed.
"But the era of strategic patience is over," he declared. "President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable."
Meanwhile, China made a plea for a return to negotiations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Monday that tensions need to be eased on the Korean Peninsula to bring the escalating dispute there to a peaceful resolution. Lu said Beijing wants to resume the multi-party negotiations that ended in stalemate in 2009 and suggested that U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in South Korea were damaging its relations with China.
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking to a parliamentary session Monday, said: "Needless to say, diplomatic effort is important to maintain peace. But dialogue for the sake of having dialogue is meaningless."
"We need to apply pressure on North Korea so they seriously respond to a dialogue" with the international community, he said, urging China and Russia to play more constructive roles on the issue.
Pence's visit, full of Cold War symbolism, came amid increasing tensions and heated rhetoric on the Korean Peninsula. While the North did not conduct a nuclear test, the specter of a potential test and an escalated U.S. response has trailed Pence as he undertakes his Asian tour.
Trump wrote Sunday on Twitter that China was working with the United States on "the North Korea problem." His national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the U.S. would rely on its allies as well as Chinese leadership to resolve the issues with North Korea.
McMaster cited Trump's recent decision to order missile strikes in Syria after a chemical attack blamed on the Assad government, as a sign that the president "is clearly comfortable making tough decisions." But at the same time, McMaster said on "This Week" on ABC that "it's time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully." The Trump administration is hoping that China will help rein in North Korea in exchange for other considerations. Last week, Trump said he would not declare China a currency manipulator, pulling back from a campaign promise, as he looked for help from Beijing, which is the North's dominant trade partner.