North Korea’s nuke ambition fuel presidential sparring

Steve Peoples
Associated Press

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offered sharply different responses to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in light of the country’s latest array of testing.

North Korea’s boast of a technologically game-changing nuclear test defied both tough international sanctions and long-standing diplomatic pressure to curb its nuclear ambitions. It will raise serious worries in many world capitals that North Korea has moved another step closer to its goal of a nuclear-armed missile that could one day strike the U.S. mainland.

Clinton said Friday it was time for a “rethinking” of America’s strategy for North Korea following the regime’s latest test of a nuclear weapon. Trump’s campaign chief, meanwhile, refused to outline the Republican presidential candidate’s plans for defusing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Speaking after meeting with a bipartisan group of national security experts in New York, the former secretary of state said she would seek to impose tougher sanctions on the communist nation. She also argued the latest test provides an opening to pressure China, which has been tepid in its response to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

“I think we have an opening here that we haven’t had for the last several years that I intend to do everything I can to take advantage of,” Clinton said.

Clinton spoke hours after Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, pressed repeatedly on Trump’s plans for the region, said only, “He wouldn’t do what’s being done now.”

“He’s not going to reveal all of his plans, and he’s made that very clear. And maybe someone can ask him in a debate,” Conway told CBS “This Morning.” “But the fact is that this entire world would be put on notice that there’s a strong leader in the White House.”

Trump later suggested that Clinton and others are wrong to outline their national security policies because they could help the nation’s enemies.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be so honest when it comes to military strategy,” Trump said in a speech to religious conservatives in Washington D.C.

President Barack Obama condemned the test and said the U.S. would never accept the country as a nuclear power.

Clinton, in a statement, called for new sanctions in addition to those endorsed by the Obama administration and adopted earlier in the year with the United Nations. The Democrat also said the United States must ensure China applies increasing pressure on North Korea, and she noted that regional allies such as South Korea and Japan play a critical role in missile defense.

North Korea’s latest test was its fifth atomic test, and the second in eight months. South Korean President Park Geun-hye said the detonation, which Seoul estimated was the North’s biggest-ever in explosive yield, was an act of “fanatic recklessness” and a sign that leader Kim Jong Un “is spiraling out of control.”

The U.N. Security Council strongly condemed North Korea’s test and said Friday that it will start discussions on “significant measures” against Pyongyang including new sanctions.

The development comes at the end of a week in which Trump and Clinton clashed repeatedly over national security.

The New York billionaire attacked Clinton’s record as the nation’s chief diplomat, yet he faced criticism from within his own party for refusing to outline his plans for combating foreign policy challenges, including threats posed by the Islamic State group. Trump said this week that he does indeed have a plan, but would convene military leaders in his first 30 days in office to craft another plan.

Trump has also faced criticism for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin during a high-profile national security forum earlier in the week, and appearing on a Russian-backed television network Thursday evening.

On Friday, Clinton said she was “disappointed” by Trump’s decision to appear on RT America, saying that “every day that goes by this just becomes more and more of a reality television show. It’s not a serious presidential campaign.”

With several prominent Republican national security officials concerned about Trump’s national security acumen, Clinton has tried to cast herself as the better commander in chief.

The former secretary of state attended a meeting with foreign policy and national security experts in New York City Friday afternoon to discuss ways to combat terrorism.

Participants, both in person and via remote video, included officials who have served in Democratic and Republican administrations, such as retired Marine Gen. John Allen, former CIA director David Petraeus and Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano, both former secretaries of Homeland Security.

Clinton has aggressively promoted her growing list of military endorsements from both parties.

On Friday, her campaign said the number of retired generals and admirals endorsing Clinton for president has grown to 110. Clinton stressed that she has more military backing than Trump, who touted endorsements from 88 retired U.S. generals and admirals earlier.

Dozens of Republican national security officials released a letter last month warning that Trump would be “the most reckless president in American history.” Meanwhile Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, received his first intelligence briefing Friday.