President Obama won rare foreign policy praise from Republicans for his administration’s handling of the North Korea crisis, as China signaled a possible readiness to play a more active role in pressuring Pyongyang away from provoking a military conflict.
Two influential Republicans commended the White House on separate news talk shows Sunday for striking an effective balance by allowing senior Cabinet members to issue cautionary remarks in response to North Korea, while also strategically adjusting the U.S. military posture in the region.
“This administration’s acted responsibly,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who often is an outspoken critic of the administration’s foreign policy.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the South Carolina Republican lauded the White House’s recent decisions to publicize images of American B-2 bombers in the region while also delaying a previously scheduled intercontinental missile test out of concerns it might further escalate tensions with North Korea.
A senior U.S. defense official said Sunday the long-planned test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California had been delayed, according to The Associated Press.
Mr. Graham also said he was “glad we’re telling our allies in South Korea and Japan: ‘We literally have your back.’”
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“The North Koreans need to understand if they attack an American interest or an ally of this country, they’re going to pay a heavy price,” he said.
The remarks dovetailed with comments by former GOP presidential candidate John Huntsman Jr., a notably more moderate Republican, who served as U.S. ambassador to China during President Obama’s first term.
Mr. Huntsman told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the administration was “playing the right hand,” and that the North Korean situation has created a “huge opening” for Washington.
U.S. and Chinese interests, “for the first time in a long while, are aligned,” Mr. Huntsman said. “We both want to get something done and bring the level of tension down on the Korean Peninsula.”
Possible shift in China
Debate has swirled in Washington’s foreign policy community over the extent to which China — under newly appointed President Xi Jingping — is willing to pressure North Korea away from further escalating the situation.
SEE ALSO: South Korea: North Korea may be preparing to test missile
Mr. Xi appeared to suggest Sunday that the same debate is gripping China, where he delivered a speech asserting that no single nation should “be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains.”
The Chinese president did not mention North Korea by name, but news reports placed his remarks within the context of the ongoing crisis.
One top Republican, meanwhile, argued that China could be doing significantly more than offering vague rhetoric.
Beijing “does hold the key to this problem,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona said on Sunday. “China could cut off their economy if they want to.”
Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Mr. McCain said, “Chinese behavior has been very disappointing, whether it be on cybersecurity, whether it be on confrontation in the South China Sea, or whether their failure to rein in what could be a catastrophic situation” with North Korea.
China has maintained a military alliance with North Korea in recent years but also has sided with the U.S. in agreeing to impose U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang as part of an effort to contain the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
Selling nuclear material
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson on Sunday said that on one of several trips he made in recent years to North Korea, a leader from the nation did not deny selling nuclear weapons materials to other countries.
“I remember asking a North Korean leader, I said: ‘Are you guys exporting nuclear materials?’ He said: ‘Maybe. If you continue sanctions, we’ve got to get foreign exchange,’” Mr. Richardson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Mr. Richardson suggested the sale of highly valuable nuclear material is seen by Pyongyang’s leadership as a way to skirt international sanctions to bring much needed foreign currency into the nation.
His remarks were bolstered by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to make an official trip to North Korea.
“The nuclear programs and technology are basically their cash crop,” Ms. Albright, who visited Pyongyang while serving in the Clinton administration, told “Face the Nation.”