FOREIGN POLICY

Message to N. Korea? Syria strike adds new element to Trump, Xi talks

Part of missile defense system moves to South Korea

 

The U.S. missile attack against a Syrian airbase late Thursday added a new dynamic to talks held Friday between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. In launching the strikes, Trump might have sent a message to the rogue North Korean regime and its lone ally in Beijing.

"I don’t believe the president sat there and said ‘I am going to do this to send a message to North Korea,’" Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Friday on "Fox & Friends." However, he said, "I do believe it sent a message to North Korea. If you are Kim Jong Un and you are watching tonight you are realizing we have a different thing going on here.”

“I think he is worried,” the former presidential candidate added.

On Friday morning, Trump did not specifically address the impact of the strikes on discussions between him and Xi, but told reporters the two leaders could make “potentially bad problems” go away.

“The relationship developed by President Xi and myself I think is outstanding. We look forward to being together many times in the future. And I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away,” Trump said.

During his Thursday night briefing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the strikes were a “kinetic military response” to Syria’s “use of prohibited chemical weapons” and did not represent a “change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today.” 

But, Tillerson added, it “does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line, and cross the line on violating commitments they have made and cross the line in the most heinous of ways.  I think it is clear that President Trump has made that statement to the world tonight.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also argued taking decisive action would send a “strong and clear” message to other rogue nations, including North Korea and Iran.

“Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision and hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime's horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere,” he said.

In light of the Syria strike, some analysts believe China may take  the U.S. more seriously.

“China now likely views Trump’s threat to take unilateral action against North Korea as more credible,” M. Taylor Fravel, an associate professor of political science in the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Japan Times.

While he argued China “may be more willing to take actions, either by itself or with others, to slow the pace or even halt Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs,” Fravel noted that North Korea is a “much greater challenge militarily that cannot be solved with symbolic strikes.”