The Many Times 'All Options' Have Been on the Table for North Korea

(Oct. 18, 2016) An MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter from Helicopter Squadron (HM) 14, approaches the Republic of Korea (ROK) mine laying ship ROKS Wonsan (MLS 560), during exercise Clear Horizon. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jermaine M. Ralliford)

(Oct. 18, 2016) An MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter from Helicopter Squadron (HM) 14, approaches the Republic of Korea (ROK) mine laying ship ROKS Wonsan (MLS 560), during exercise Clear Horizon. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jermaine M. Ralliford)

In response to what has been seen as North Korea's most aggressive provocation yet -- firing a ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean Monday -- President Donald Trump today released a statement reiterating that "all options are on the table" when it comes to America's potential response to the crisis.

"The world has received North Korea’s latest message loud and clear: this regime has signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable international behavior," the statement, attributed to Trump, said. "Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world. All options are on the table."

The statement falls well short of Trump's bombastic language earlier this month when he promised to unleash "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if North Korea threatened the U.S. again, but is par for the course for other administration strongly-worded statements on North Korea, especially the "all options are on the table" part.

On August 17, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters, "As President Trump has made clear, the era of strategic patience is over. With regard to North Korea, all options are on the table, and the United States will continue to bring the full range of American power -- economic and diplomatic -- until North Korea abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

On July 31, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, "As we've said many times before, the President is not going to broadcast any decisions, but all options are on the table," when it comes to North Korean provocations.

In April, during an Asian tour, Pence repeated the phrase on at least five separate occasions, including once while visiting the de-militarized zone between North and South Korea. 

"And I’m here to express the resolve of the people of the United States and the President of the United States to achieve that objective through peaceable means, through negotiations, but all options are on the table as we continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of South Korea for the denuclearization of this peninsula and for the long-term prosperity and freedom of the people of South Korea," he said then.

Aboard the USS Ronald Reagan a couple days later, he said, "But as all of you know, readiness is the key.  And you, the instruments of American policy, should know -- all options are on the table.  History will attest, the soldier 'does not bear the sword in vain.'"

Prior to his ouster, then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempted in earlier April to clarify Trump's remarks then that the U.S. would "solve" the problem with North Korea.

"I think he has been very clear that he will not tolerate some of this action by North Korea," Spicer said. "But to answer your question, I think I’ve said this before on a variety of topics, the President is not one who is going to out there and telegraph his response. I think he keeps all options on the table.  He keeps his cards close to the vest.  And as he showed last week with respect to Syria, when the President is willing to act, it’s going to be decisive and proportional to make it very clear what the position of the United States is."

Spicer is right that the Trump administration doesn't save the phrase for North Korea -- Sanders has used it to described potential White House responses to legislative moves and even Energy Secretary Rick Perry got in on the action replying to a question about Yucca Mountain -- and Trump's White House is certainly not the first to default to the vaguely threatening language. The Obama administration used a version of it when discussing dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat and the conflict in Syria. George W. Bush's administration was fond of it as well.

Trump has made no further comment about the North Korean launch, but if he continues the rhetorical battle that erupted earlier this month, his later, on-the-fly comments could stray from the administration's stock response. As of this report, he's traveling to Texas to survey the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey there.

[Editor's Note: This report has been updated to clarify that the White House statement was attributed to Trump.]

 

 

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