Photo: Reuters/Win McNamee

President Donald Trump noted in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that North Korea’s nuke weapons program could “very soon” threaten the US mainland and that his administration is working to stop that from becoming a reality.

“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” he said. “We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening,” Trump told both houses of the US Congress in a nationally televised speech.

“Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation,” Trump went on to say, “I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”

Softer tone

Trump, in past months, has threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it doesn’t halt its nuclear weapons program. He has also traded personal insults with leader Kim Jong-un.

But South Korea’s JoongAng Daily noted in a post-speech analysis that Trump avoided such provocative language on Tuesday and struck a softer tone by focusing on the Kim government’s human rights abuses.

“No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” he said. “We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.”

Trump also called attention to the case of Otto Warmbier, a US college student who died last year after being imprisoned in North Korea for over a year. Warmbier’s family members were present in the Capitol chamber and were applauded by the attendees.

“You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all,” Trump said. “Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve.”

Is Trump’s response different?

Previous US administrations have sought various agreements with Pyongyang in an effort to denuclearize the country in exchange for economic and political aid.

Critics have charged that those efforts only gave North Korea time to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The Trump administration, in comparison, has promoted an international campaign to increase economic and diplomatic sanctions on Pyongyang with the goal of bringing it to negotiations on its denuclearization. But so far, it has stopped short of taking military action against the North.

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