In what we believe is a significant escalation and potentially a hint as to the president's thinking, President Trump said during a phone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the US remains committed to defending its territories and allies using all "diplomatic, conventional and - here's the big one - nuclear - capabilities at our disposal." This is the first time Trump has explicitly referenced possible involvement of nuclear weapons in a US response to its isolated antagonist, and also means that the two world leaders discussed the possibility of a nuclear response.
- TRUMP REAFFIRMS U.S. COMMITMENT TO DEFEND THE U.S. & ALLIES USING FULL RANGE OF DIPLOMATIC, CONVENTIONAL AND NUCLEAR CAPABILITIES: STATEMENT
The White House released a statement about what the two leaders discussed on the call. It’s available in full below:
JUST IN: White House issues statement on call between President Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pic.twitter.com/pc7w3v42y4— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 3, 2017
The call was held to discuss how the two countries should respond to North Korea's sixth nuclear test – and possibly its first successful test of a hydrogen bomb. The test came after multiple provocations from the North over the past week, including two missile tests. Earlier, Defense Secretary James Mattis, using the couched language of international diplomacy, said any threat to the US or its territories would be met with a “massive military response.”
The full White House statement on the 6th North Korean nuclear test, as delivered by Mattis shortly after 3pm ET, is below:
"Any threat to the US or its territories including Guam or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming. Kim Jong Un should take heed in the United Nations' Security Council's unified voice. All members unanimously agreed on the threat North Korea poses and they remain unanimous in their commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, but as I said we have many options to do so."
China also strongly criticized the nuclear test, slamming Pyongyang for ignoring international condemnation of its atomic weapons program. North Korea "has ignored the international community's widespread opposition, again carrying out a nuclear test. China's government expresses resolute opposition and strong condemnation toward this," the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.
"We strongly urge the DPRK (North Korea) to face the strong will of denuclearisation from the international community, earnestly abide by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, stop taking mistaken actions which worsen the situation and are also not in line with its own interests, and effectively return to the track of solving the problem through dialogue," it added.
Finally, as several sellside desks have commented this afternoon, a sixth nuclear test by North Korea likely represents crossing a “red line” sufficient "to prompt China and Russia to support additional UN sanctions." And while China could impose more restrictions on oil exports to NK as part of future UN sanctions - as a reminder the UNSC is meeting tomorrow at 10am - it is unclear if this means a complete embargo. It is also unclear whether more of the same, i.e., sanctions would be sufficient to change NK regime behavior. Finally, China will need to consider the risk that punitive sanctions end up destabilizing the NK regime, leading to a flood of refugees and other adverse consequences.