The White House expressed concern Monday about North Korea's weekend test of a high-powered rocket engine amid concern the communist nation could use the engine to carry out a threatened test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S.
"We continue to be concerned with North Korea's activity. That's why not only have we continued to have conversations with officials in Japan and South Korea, but continue to urge China to step in and play a larger role in deterring both the ballistic and other missile threats that North Korea plays," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in response to a question about President Donald Trump's reaction to the engine test.
"I think there is a growing concern about North Korea. I think that is part of what Secretary Tillerson is going to be discussing with him during their meeting," he said of a meeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had with Trump after returning from a trip to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.
Over the weekend, Trump also held a series of meetings to discuss North Korea, including one with his National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, according to the White House. It also said Trump also met with military personnel, though it was unclear if the meeting was related to North Korea.
Trump said Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is acting "very, very badly."
Saturday's engine test by the North came after Tillerson strongly signaled a hardline policy on the North, saying two decades of diplomatic efforts to disarm the North failed, and the U.S. is looking at a range of options, including the use of military action.
During a trip to Seoul and Tokyo, Tillerson also declared an end to former President Barack Obama's North Korea policy, known as "strategic patience," which centers on waiting for Pyongyang to show good faith while increasing sanctions and pressure on the regime.
"I think he sent a very clear signal that our policy of strategic patience is over," Spicer said.
He also called for China to play greater roles in reining in Pyongyang.
"The president and the secretary of state have an expectation that China employ multiple points of pressure on North Korea. We know that we don't agree 100 percent of the time with China, but as the State Department noted yesterday, both (Chinese) President Xi (Jinping) and Secretary Tillerson agreed that there are opportunities for greater cooperation," he said.
Spicer also said that an upcoming summit between Trump and Xi will be helpful in increasing cooperation.
State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said Tillerson's trip didn't produce a breakthrough, but was positive.
"I don't think we were looking for any major outcomes. Obviously, he was there to talk about the challenge of North Korea first and foremost. That was, frankly, a theme throughout his trip, and how do we address it going forward? How do we address this threat going forward?" Toner said when asked if Tillerson won any assurances from China to exercise more pressure on the North.
"I can't say that we found any solutions, but we're continuing those conversations," he said. (Yonhap)