WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump, under pressure to respond to the death of an American student after his detention by North Korea, said Tuesday that China has been unable to crack down on North Korea, pointing to a new direction for U.S. policies.
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"While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out," Mr. Trump said in a Twitter message. "At least I know China tried."
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Mr. Trump at his Florida resort in April, and the two agreed to work together to address North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs. In the weeks since, Mr. Trump has praised Mr. Xi. But his Twitter message Tuesday indicated that the effort has ended in failure.
Only moments earlier, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a news briefing that Washington and Beijing have made progress on pressuring North Korea and are looking to do more.
"We'll continue to work with them and others to put the appropriate pressure on North Korea," Mr. Spicer said.
White House officials didn't immediately explain the disparate messages.
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Senior Chinese officials are due in Washington on Wednesday to huddle with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Until Mr. Trump's announcement Tuesday, administration officials had been saying he is seeking to cooperate with China to pressure North Korea to alter its drive for nuclear missiles. By abandoning that option, Mr. Trump faces a short list of alternatives that all are considered problematic. One is to impose so-called secondary sanctions that would penalize companies that do business with North Korea. China is bitterly opposed to such sanctions because the bulk of outside firms and banks doing business with Pyongyang are Chinese.
The Trump administration recently asked China to act against around 10 Chinese companies and individuals trading with North Korea, saying that doing so would disrupt key networks that support North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
The U.S. hadn't set a deadline but has indicated the Treasury Department could impose unilateral sanctions on some of the entities before the end of the summer if Beijing doesn't act.
Another option is an outright ban on U.S. tourism. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that Mr. Tillerson is considering whether to halt all travel by Americans to North Korea.
On Monday, 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, died in a Cincinnati hospital. He had been released from North Korea after 17 months in captivity and was in a coma after apparently falling ill months earlier without the knowledge of U.S. officials or his family.
His family said he came home unable to speak, see or respond to voice commands.
After the disclosure on Monday of Mr. Warmbier's death, U.S. lawmakers demanded that North Korea be held to account for his treatment.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Kim Jong Un's "repressive murderous regime" deserves blame for Mr. Warmbier's death.
"They must be held accountable for their continued barbaric behavior," he said in a statement.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. "cannot and should not tolerate the murder of its citizens by hostile powers."
A county coroner in Mr. Warmbier's home state of Ohio announced an investigation into his death. Physicians said he had a severe brain injury, the cause of which remains unclear.
Mr. Trump earlier Tuesday said that what happened to Mr. Warmbier is "a total disgrace."
"That should never, ever be allowed to happen," Mr. Trump told reporters, when asked about Mr. Warmbier's death. "Frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the result would have been a lot different."
Mr. Trump didn't spell out say how he would respond to Mr. Warmbier's death. His Twitter message came several hours later.
Rebecca Ballhaus contributed to this article.
Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 20, 2017 16:22 ET (20:22 GMT)