In Call With President Trump, China’s Xi Urges Restraint Over N. Korea

BEDMINSTER, N.J./ BEIJING (Reuters) -
A North Korean military guard post is seen from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Aug. 12. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

China’s President Xi Jinping said there needs to be a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue, and in a telephone call with U.S. President Donald Trump he urged all sides to avoid words or action that raise tensions.

President Xi’s comments came hours after President Trump warned North Korea that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” as Pyongyang accused the U.S. leader of driving the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.

The Pentagon said the United States and South Korea would proceed as planned with a joint military exercise in 10 days, an action sure to further antagonize North Korea.

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that President Xi told President Trump a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue was essential, and urged calm.

“Concerned parties must exercise restraint and avoid remarks and actions that escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula,” it cited President Xi as saying.

In their phone call, Presidents Trump and Xi “agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behavior,” the White House said in a statement, and reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. It added the relationship between Presidents Trump and Xi was “extremely close” and “will hopefully lead to a peaceful resolution of the North Korea problem.”

Trump, vacationing at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, earlier took to Twitter to warn North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that U.S. “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely.”

Again referring to Kim, Trump added, “If he utters one threat … or if he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”

In remarks to reporters on Friday after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Trump said the situation with North Korea was “very dangerous and it will not continue.”

He added, “We will see what happens. We think that lots of good things could happen, and we could also have a bad solution.”

Despite the tough rhetoric, Trump insisted that “nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump.”

South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement on Saturday the United States and China were working to resolve the North Korea crisis, and it hoped the two leaders’ phone call “will be able to resolve the peak of tension and act as a catalyst for the situation to move on to a new dimension.”

Guam, the Pacific island that is a U.S. territory and home to a U.S. air base, a Navy installation, a Coast Guard group and around 6,000 U.S. military personnel, posted emergency guidelines on Friday to help residents prepare for any potential nuclear attack.

North Korean state news agency KCNA said on Thursday the North Korean army would complete plans in mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land in the sea 18 to 25 miles from Guam.

Japan’s government decided to deploy its Patriot missile defense system to four locations in the west of the country, media reported.

Trump said he was considering additional sanctions on North Korea, adding these would be “very strong.” He gave no details and did not make clear whether he meant unilateral or multilateral sanctions.

U.S. officials have said new U.S. steps targeting Chinese banks and firms doing business with Pyongyang are in the works, but these have appeared to be put on hold to give Beijing time to show it is serious about enforcing new U.N. sanctions.

Trump said he did not want to talk about diplomatic “back channels” with North Korea after U.S. media reports that Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, had engaged in diplomacy for several months with Pak Song Il, a senior diplomat at Pyongyang’s U.N. mission, on the deteriorating ties and the issue of Americans imprisoned in North Korea.

But Daniel Russel, until April the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said this so-called New York channel had been a relatively commonplace means of communication with North Korea over the years, and was not a forum for negotiation.

“It’s never been a vehicle for negotiations and this doesn’t constitute substantive U.S.-DPRK dialogue,” he said, using the acronym for North Korea’s formal name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

As the rhetoric has ratcheted up, South Koreans are buying more ready-to-eat meals for emergency use, and the government aims to expand nationwide civil defense drills planned for Aug. 23. Hundreds of thousands of troops and huge arsenals are arrayed on both sides of the tense demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.