Thursday 17 August 2017

North Korea stand-off needs calm, clear heads, says Boris Johnson

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson arriving at Global Radio in Leicester Square, London, ahead of an interview with LBC. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson arriving at Global Radio in Leicester Square, London, ahead of an interview with LBC. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Andrew Woodcock

Boris Johnson has called for "calm, clear heads" in the stand-off with North Korea, insisting that military action against Pyongyang is "not the way forward".

The Foreign Secretary was travelling on Thursday to New York to discuss the nuclear crisis with the United Nations Security Council, as US President Donald Trump ramps up pressure on the secretive regime of Kim Jong Un.

Mr Trump has deployed an anti-missile system and sent US troops to participate in military exercises with South Korea, and on Wednesday took the unusual step of inviting all US senators to the White House for a classified security briefing on the threat from the North's programme of missile tests.

The chief of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, told Congress: "All options are on the table. We want to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, not to his knees."

Speaking to BBC1's Breakfast, Mr Johnson said the threat from North Korea was "very real and very dangerous indeed" and the White House was "entirely right" to escalate the issue.

But he warned that military action could result in "huge and hideous reprisals" against the South and insisted it was not "likely" at this point.

Instead, he called for economic pressure from the international community - particularly China - to persuade Kim to freeze or step down his nuclear programmes.

"The situation in North Korea has changed very substantially over the last few years. What people thought was an almost comical question - the North Korean nuclear threat - has become very real and very dangerous indeed," said Mr Johnson.

"We need to address it. I think the White House are entirely right in escalating the seriousness of this question. All North Korea's neighbours feel this threat very intensely.

"To what extent is there a military solution? I have to say I am very, very sceptical and so are most of the experts that I've talked to.

"I think the military options are not good. The best way forward - and I think this is what the White House wants to pursue - is to keep a calm, clear head and to work particularly with Beijing to try to bring pressure on Pyongyang, try to get them to see that they could have a great economic future if they could agree not to be so threatening, if they could agree a freeze or to denuclearise. That's got to be the way forward, but as people can see, at the moment the situation is tense."

Asked repeatedly whether UK troops could be involved in any allied military action, Mr Johnson said: "All the evidence I have seen suggests to me that the military options are very far from good. Don't forget that Seoul - the capital of South Korea - is only about 40 minutes from the border with North Korea.

"The risk of huge, hideous reprisals against South Korea as a result of any kind of attack on North Korea has got to be very, very severe.

"What we are working for in the UK Government, what we are urging, is co-operation between the US and Beijing and all the regional powers to try to get North Korea to see sense.

"Today I'm going to the United Nations Security Council in New York to see what we can do at the UN to try to build an international consensus.

"Military action against North Korea, in my honest opinion, is not a good idea at the moment and I certainly don't think it's likely."

Referring to the film Team America, which mocked former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Mr Johnson said the position had "moved from being comical".

He told LBC: "North Korea was a kind of hilarious thing. It's not hilarious any more. It's not funny. This guy is a real threat to his neighbourhood."

Mr Johnson said he was "not a fan" of military options to deal with Kim Jong Un's regime but warned the dictator posed a threat to Britain.

"If he keeps developing missiles in the way that he is doing, he could be a threat to Western Europe, including ourselves," he said.

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