UPDATE — 5/3, 10:32 a.m. EDT: Only days after indicating negotiations with North Korea would only be considered if Pyongyang first agrees to draw-down its nuclear weapons program, the U.S. conducted a missile test of its own early Wednesday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, Calif.
The Air Force Global Strike Command said an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile was launched, hitting a target at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, more than 4,200 miles off the California coast.
The specific missile tested is known as the Minuteman 3 and is capable of traveling a distance of 8,000 miles
Although vague caveats apply, President Trump said Monday he would be willing to meet with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in an interview at the White House with Bloomberg News.
“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” Trump said from the Oval Office. “If it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that. Most political people would never say that, but I’m telling you under the right circumstances I would meet with him.”
The president did not elaborate precisely which circumstances would lead to a face-to-face meeting; however, in a White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said conditions such as Pyongyang lowering “provocative behavior” would be an essential first step prior to negotiations.
Trump’s comments come amid weeks of tension on the Korean peninsula in which the U.S. has increased its military presence in the region in response to Pyongyang’s warmongering and a succession of ballistic-missile tests.
In addition to a naval flotilla dispatched to the area, the U.S. has also deployed the THAAD anti-ballistic-missile defense system in South Korea, engaged with China to apply pressure to its North Korean neighbor into abandoning its ballistic-missile and nuclear programs and petitioned the UN to impose sanctions on Pyongyang.
The president’s remarks Monday follow Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statements last week suggesting the administration would negotiate with North Korea only if Pyongyang demonstrated a willingness to abandoning its nuclear and ballistic-missile ambitions.
Despite the White House revealing yet another option it intends to pursue with Kim, North Korea had no comment, but did protest the deployment of and training mission of a pair of B-1B bombers alongside South Korean and Japanese air force planes Monday.
Responding to the training mission, North Korean state-owned news agency, KCNA, issued a terse statement which read:
“The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war. Any military provocation against the DPRK will precisely mean a total war which will lead to the final doom of the U.S.”
While U.S. military intelligence has indicated North Korea is on-pace to complete development of a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the West Coast of America by 2020, some experts in the region say Pyongyang’s primary target is South Korea.
“They believe they can beat the South Koreans — perhaps even without using their nuclear weapons — if only they can maneuver the U.S. to stay out of that fight,” Asia-based journalist Bradley Martin wrote in the Asia Times on Monday.
[Bloomberg] [The Independent] [AP] [Photo courtesy Getty Images via CNN]