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WASHINGTON – If Iran is a red line for the United States in terms of possessing nuclear weapons, what is North Korea?
President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilan, says nuclear weapons in the hands of the Hermit State also are unacceptable, but Pyongyang already has tested three nuclear weapons and recently threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.
In addition, North Korea already has tested a three-stage missile which U.S. intelligence officials assess could reach the West Coast of the U.S. During its latest test in January, the North Koreans also orbited a “package” which they said was a satellite.
However, sources believe it was a test for deorbiting a nuclear device and possibly exploding it over the U.S. to create an electromagnetic pulse effect, knocking out the U.S. electrical grid system.
At the same time, the North Koreans released a video showing a nuclear explosion over New York City against a backdrop of music from Michael Jackson’s “We are the World.”
So, where does that leave U.S. policy toward North Korea possessing nuclear weapons, and would the U.S. go to war over Iran, which doesn’t yet possess them, while providing further concessions to Pyongyang if only it would give up nuclear weapons ambitions?
The policy of past presidents has been to give concessions to North Korea if it would suspend its nuclear testing.
But now, Donilon has warned that the U.S. will not condone a North Korean nuclear state. With North Korea already demonstrating that it is a nuclear state, what’s next?
Before the New York Asia Society, Donilon said that the U.S. has been committed to stability on the Korean peninsula.
“This means deterring North Korean aggression and protecting our allies,” Donilon said. “And it means the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
In the past, the U.S. has discouraged South Korea from developing nuclear weapons in an effort to keep the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free. Washington also had imposed missile limits on Seoul to ensure against developing a missile that could reach all of North Korea. However, that also is changing.
Donilon said that the U.S. approach would be expanded cooperation with U.S. allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, since unity is “as crucial to the search for a diplomatic solution as it is to deterrence.”
See North Korea’s video against a musical backdrop of “We are the World,” showing a nuclear weapon detonation over New York City:
He also called for close U.S. coordination with China, which has close relations with North Korea but recently has appeared dissatisfied with its missile and now nuclear testing.
"North Korea’s claims may be hyperbolic, but as to the policy of the United States," Donilon said, "there should be no doubt we will draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, the threat posed to us and to our allies by North Korea."
Over the past weekend, new U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. would deploy 14 new ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska to counter any North Korean missile threat.
However, they won't be fully deployed until 2017.
The additions would bring U.S.-based ground interceptors deployed from 30 to 44, which includes four based in California.
In addition, the U.S. will shift some Aegis anti-missile systems destined originally for Europe to U.S.-based defenses, along with a second anti-ballistic missile radar to be installed in Japan.
The deployments on the West Coast have brought on calls for deploying similar anti-ballistic missile systems on the East Coast to guard against a potential Iranian attack.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on the Obama administration to "move expeditiously to construct an East Coast missile defense site."
She was critical of the administration for waiting to deploy the anti-ballistic missile systems on the West Coast since "it shouldn't have taken the predictable saber-rattling from North Korea to bring this about."
Donilon used his New York speech to outline what he referred to as a "rebalance" in U.S. policy to the Asia-Pacific, which he called a region "that will shape the global order in the decades ahead."
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He said that in assessing U.S. policy and resources, he said that the U.S. was "overweighted" in the Middle East but "underweighted" in such regions as the Asia-Pacific.
He said that Asia economically accounts for more than a quarter of the global Gross Domestic Product.
"Over the next five years, nearly half of all growth outside the United States is expected to come from Asia," he said. "This growth is fueling powerful geopolitical forces that are reshaping the region – China's ascent, Japan's resilience, and the rise of a 'Global Korea,' an eastward-looking India and Southeast Asian nations more interconnected and prosperous than ever before."
For that reason, he said, U.S. strategy and its "rebalancing" means devoting time, effort and resources but doesn't mean containing China or seeking to dictate terms to Asia.
"And it isn't just a matter of our military presence," he said. "It is an effort that harnesses all elements of U.S. power – military, political, trade and investment, development and our values."
In this connection, he said that U.S. will continue to strengthen alliances with Japan and South Korea.
"In Japan and South Korea, the United States can look to new leaders who are firmly committed to close security cooperation with the United States," Donilon said. He said that public support for their alliance with the U.S. is running at 80 percent of the population.
Donilon is looking to this alliance, along with close coordination with China, to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear state.
In stating that the U.S. will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state or its development of a nuclear-armed missile that can target the U.S., Donilon said there would be consequences for North Korea's violation of its international obligations not to conduct either missile or nuclear testing.
The United Nations Security Council recently approved new sanctions on the North in response to its most recent nuclear test in February.
Donilon said that U.S. policy toward North Korea rests on four principles.
It calls for expanded cooperation with Japan, South Korea and coordination with China. In addition, the U.S. refuses "to reward bad North Korean behavior."
"To get the assistance it desperately needs and the respect it claims it wants, North Korea will have to change course," Donilon said. "Otherwise, the United States will continue to work with allies and partners to tighten national and international sanctions to impede North Korea's nuclear and missile programs."
The U.S. Treasury is to impose sanctions against the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, which is the country's primary foreign exchange bank.
A principle will be U.S. commitment to defend the homeland while also working to encourage North Korea to "choose a better path."
"The United States is prepared to help North Korea develop its economy and feed its people, but it must change its current course," Donilon said. "The United States is prepared to sit down with North Korea to negotiate and to implement the commitments that they and the United States have made. We ask only that Pyongyang prove its seriousness by taking meaningful steps to show it will abide by its commitments, honor its words, and respect international law."