Senate Heads to White House for Briefing on North Korea, But U.S. Strategy Still At Sea

The White House will host the entire Senate on Wednesday for an extraordinary briefing on North Korea amid rising tensions with Pyongyang and growing questions about how the Trump administration intends to halt the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Classified briefings for lawmakers from top officials are not unusual and are held on a regular basis on Capitol Hill. But in this case, President Donald Trump belatedly proposed that a planned briefing on North Korea be hosted at the White House, with the secretaries of State, Defense, the U.S. military’s top officer and the head of national intelligence due to speak to senators.

The last-minute decision, coinciding with tough rhetoric from the White House and bellicose threats from North Korea, took lawmakers by surprise and fueled doubts about the Trump administration’s often disjointed efforts at crafting a policy to neutralize the North Korean nuclear threat. Administration officials have publicly jettisoned long-standing U.S. policy on North Korea but have yet to articulate what will replace it.

In a meeting with U.N. Security Council representatives on Monday at the White House, Trump cited the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and suggested his administration was determined to address the danger once and for all.

“People have put blindfolds on for decades, and now it’s time to solve the problem,” Trump told the diplomats.

The White House has repeatedly said that it has abandoned the Obama administration’s approach of so-called “strategic patience,” saying it will not tolerate North Korea’s march toward a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile. But it’s not clear how Trump and his deputies intend to crack a problem that has vexed the United States and its allies for more than a quarter of a century.

Senior officials say the primary focus of U.S. policy at the moment centers on a diplomatic push to persuade China to use its influence with North Korea to force Pyongyang back from the brink.

But it’s doubtful Washington has sufficient leverage to convince Beijing to impose an economic squeeze on the North. Moreover, China has always feared any action that could trigger the collapse of the Pyongyang regime on its border. Previous U.S. administrations have tried the same approach and come away disappointed with China’s cautious steps.

“All sides understand the stakes and understand what needs to happen,” a White House official told Foreign Policy, referring to discussions with China. But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it remained to be seen if China would take the necessary steps against North Korea. He added that “there is not infinite patience on our side” but did not elaborate.

Some experts have urged the White House to impose sanctions directly on Chinese companies if Beijing refuses to press Pyongyang, but administration officials declined to say if that option is under serious…

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