North Korea has threatened massive nuclear retaliation in response to any provocation by U.S. forces, promising that it will "not miss a chance to sweep the imperialist group with a nuclear fire of justice,” according to state media.
The U.S. Navy has dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to waters near the Korean peninsula in anticipation of North Korean weapons testing later this week. In a tweet, President Donald Trump asserted that America would "solve the problem" of North Korea's nuclear program, without diplomatic assistance if necessary. "If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.," Trump wrote. He did not specify the means of a potential solution, but the recent U.S. missile strike on a Syrian military airfield has raised speculation regarding the use of force.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told ABC News that the strike in Syria should send a signal to other nations about the potential consequences of their actions. "I think the message that any nation can take is if you violate international norms, if you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken," Tillerson said. He clarified that the American objective is ultimately a de-nuclearized North Korea, not a change of government in Pyongyang.
The parallel between North Korea and Syria extends to their long-standing diplomatic relationship, which includes a history of weapons sales and military assistance. Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad's regime reaffirmed its connection with North Korea on Tuesday, sending a message to DPRK leader Kim Jong-un in honor of the 105th birthday of Kim's grandfather, Kim Il-sung. According to the Washington Post, North Korean state media said that the message expressed solidarity in both nations' "war against big powers' wild ambition to subject all countries to their expansionist and dominationist policy.”
China applies new economic pressure on Pyongyang
On Tuesday, Reuters published an exclusive report that Chinese customs officials have ordered coal importers to return North Korean cargoes to their port of origin – a break with past practice. Historically, Chinese sanctions on North Korean bulk commodities have been loosely enforced. Increased Russian and American coking coal shipments are reportedly filling the supply gap for the Chinese market.
The Chinese regulatory action coincides with talks between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Trump has publicly pressed Xi for more support in curbing North Korea's nuclear ambitions.