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Trump administration talks tough on North Korea, but frustrated lawmakers want details

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., second from right, boards a bus on Capitol Hill, heading to the White House with other Senators to get a briefing on North Korea. [Associated Press]
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., second from right, boards a bus on Capitol Hill, heading to the White House with other Senators to get a briefing on North Korea. [Associated Press]
Published Apr. 27, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and his top national security advisers briefed members of Congress Wednesday on what a senior aide called the "very grave threat" posed by North Korea, but they offered few details about the administration's strategy to pressure Pyongyang.

Administration officials emphasized in a pair of private briefings — one open to all senators at the White House and one for House members on Capitol Hill — that they were developing a range of new economic, diplomatic and military measures in the wake of a series of provocations from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un's regime.

Lawmakers said they came away convinced that the Trump administration recognized the urgency of the mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where Pyongyang conducted a failed missile test last week in the face of international condemnation.

But several members of Congress said the administration remained vague and unclear about its efforts to confront Pyongyang beyond tougher talk from Trump.

There was a definite degree of resolve that it's a bad situation and they're ratcheting up the importance of this, one Republican senator told the Washington Post, speaking on condition of anonymity to candidly discuss a private meeting. The senator went on to say that he surmised that the administration wanted to prepare everybody for the fact that this could escalate quickly.

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, emphasized, however, that there was no talk from the administration about a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.

Among the options the administration is considering are additional economic sanctions on the North and attempts to further isolate the Kim regime in the international community. The Pentagon also is developing military options, officials said, after having already directed the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group toward the peninsula in a show of force that has drawn rebukes from Pyongyang.

A senior administration official told reporters that a timeline had been developed to press North Korea, but he emphasized the approach would be "mainly events driven," predicated on the Kim regime's actions.

He spoke as the briefing for the senators was under way at a secured location next door at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

While the briefing was sobering, it was not revelatory, some of the participants said.

"There was very little, if anything new," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence briefly addressed the senators at the beginning of the meeting.

When they left, senators heard from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Daniel Coats, the national intelligence director, and Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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