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News Analysis: Trump follows Obama-plus strategy in dealing with DPRK issue: experts

Xinhua, April 25, 2017 Adjust font size:

Amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, U.S. President Donald Trump is pursuing a policy somewhat like his predecessor Barack Obama, albeit one that is more direct, U.S. experts said.

Trump has in recent days re-directed a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to the area in a bid to send a signal both to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and to its allies in the region, after the DPRK's recent missile test launch and heightened rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang.

"Right now, the Trump administration seems to be following an 'Obama-plus' strategy: same approach of reassuring allies, maintaining military assets in the region, but heightened rhetoric, more direct threats," Michael Auslin, director of Japan Studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told Xinhua.

"No real indications yet that they (the Trump administration) are considering a new round of negotiations, but if they are, then having a harder line upfront, announcing the end of 'strategic patience' gives them a stronger starting hand," said Auslin, author of new book The End of the Asian Century.

"Sending a carrier strike group is the first step in preparing to respond to any (DPRK) action. It's not just about a potential nuclear test, but about future missile launches, or another act of provocation against (the ROK) or Japan," Auslin said.

"It's a signal of commitment to our allies, and also gives the president flexibility to consider a direct response, if he determines it's necessary," he said.

Still, there is a risk that Trump will draw a red line of his own regarding the DPRK, Auslin said.

"And if he doesn't act in some way, then the administration's credibility may suffer," he said.

That said, everyone understands that there are now no good options for dealing with the DPRK, only bad ones. But appearing willing to use military pressure and to commit a second U.S. carrier strike group to the region specifically for the DPRK is an attempt to signal seriousness, and the ability to act if necessary, Auslin said.

Troy Stangarone, senior director at the Korea Economic Institute, told Xinhua the movement of the carrier strike group was designed to reassure the Republic of Korea (ROK) and to send a signal to the DPRK that there are limits to what Washington views as provocations.

However, as a result of the confusion over the timing of its deployment, it has raised questions about the U.S. commitment in South Korea, Stangarone said.

While military options remain on the table, in the absence of a clear imminent threat, Trump has few options beyond those available to the Obama administration, Stangarone said.

Trump will pursue a policy of increased pressure on the DPRK through sanctions and diplomatic isolation, Stangarone said.

Options for increased pressure include cutting off oil exports to the DPRK, placing sanctions on other DPRK exports such as textiles, and continuing to implement financial sanctions against the DPRK's access to the system, Stangarone said.

As tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula, miscalculation by either side raises the risk of an armed conflict on the peninsula, he warned.

Prudently, the Trump administration has been relatively vague in its comments on the DPRK beyond its desire not to allow Pyongyang to test an intercontinental ballistic missile and that it might be willing to take action on its own, Stangarone said.

However, as the rhetoric rises over the DPRK, there is an inherent risk from both escalation and failing to back up the rhetoric, Stangarone said.

"As a result, the administration should remain cognizant of the manner in which it uses rhetoric," Stangarone said. Endi