Donald Trump’s national security adviser issued a stark warning the day before the President left Washington for a critical swing through Asia: “We’re running out of time.”
The risk of military confrontation with North Korea appears to only grow by the week. North Korea is quietly, but aggressively, working to advance its intercontinental ballistic missile program to reach the United States with a nuclear warhead. And while the US, its allies and even its adversaries agree more must be done — and quickly — there is no clear consensus on how to proceed.
That sobering backdrop makes Trump’s 13-day trip through the region — where he will meet with key players and get a firsthand view of the North Korean nuclear threat — the United States’ best chance to stave off a crisis that is threatening to embroil the US in its first major war in Asia since the Vietnam War.
While there is little expectation that Trump will return to Washington having cracked the code to stopping North Korea’s advance, he is under considerable pressure to deliver a clear and consistent message on the US approach to the North Korean crisis. He needs to rally US allies and intends to crank up more pressure on China to change its isolated neighbor’s course.
And, as Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster warned, the clock is ticking. CNN learned earlier this week that North Korea is working on an advanced version of its existing KN-20 intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the United States, and it is entirely possible that next year, Pyongyang could master the technology to tip such a missile with a miniaturized warhead.
That means that the current visit could be the last trip by a US president to see the region’s leaders face to face before that fateful threshold is crossed.