Trump, at North Korea's doorstep, warns he's ready to use military force if needed

Politics Reuters

President Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in hold a news conference in Seoul, South Korea. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

President Donald Trump warned North Korea on Tuesday the United States was prepared to use the full range of its military power if needed to defend itself and its allies during a visit to South Korea that took him to heart of the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.

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Speaking at a joint news conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump said that while he hopes to use all tools short of military force, he was prepared to do whatever was necessary "to prevent the North Korean dictator from threatening lives ... so needlessly."

"We cannot allow North Korea to threaten all that we have built," Trump said on the first day of a two-day visit to South Korea.

But at times taking a less strident tone, Trump also urged North Korea to “do the right thing” and said: “I do see some movement” – though he declined to elaborate.

"We hope to God we don’t have to use” the United States’ full military capabilities, he said.

Landing earlier at Osan Air Base outside Seoul, the president and First Lady Melania Trump stepped down from Air Force One onto a red carpet as he began a visit that could aggravate tensions with North Korea.

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He then flew by helicopter to Camp Humphreys, the largest U.S. military base in the country, and met U.S. and South Korean troops, along with Moon.

The White House says Trump's trip is intended to demonstrate U.S. resolve over his hardline approach to the North Korean nuclear and missile threats, but many in the region fear further bellicose presidential rhetoric could increase the potential for a devastating military conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Meeting with military commanders about the North Korea issue, Trump told reporters: "Ultimately it will all work out, it always works out, it has to work out.” He did not elaborate.

Trump praised president Moon, hailing him for "great cooperation" despite differences over how to confront North Korea and over a trade pact between the United States and South Korea.

When the two leaders later held formal talks after an elaborate welcoming ceremony outside the presidential Blue House in Seoul, Moon told Trump he hoped his visit would relieve some of South Koreans' anxiety over North Korea and serve as a "turning point in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue".

Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. resolutions and an exchange of insults between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have raised the stakes in the most critical international challenge of Trump’s presidency.

Three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups will exercise together in the Western Pacific in the coming days in a show of force rarely seen in the region, U.S. officials said.

On the second leg of his five-nation trip, Trump toured the sprawling Camp Humphreys garrison, which lies about 100 km (60 miles) from the border with reclusive North Korea.

Trump was greeted with applause and a few cheers as he and Moon entered the mess hall at lunch hour.

Trump is seeking to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang following his visit to Tokyo, where he declared that Japan would shoot North Korean missiles “out of the sky” if it bought the U.S. weaponry needed to do so, suggesting the Japanese government take a stance it has avoided until now.

(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim, James Pearson and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington; writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Nick Macfie and Michael Perry)