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World

U.N. Security Council Meets After Missile Launch By North Korea

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The U.N. Security Council has condemned this missile test that North Korea conducted over the weekend. This was Pyongyang's first major challenge to the Trump administration, and it came while President Trump was hosting his Japanese counterpart for a weekend of golf in Florida. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on how the White House is responding.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Japan's prime minister called the missile launch absolutely intolerable. President Trump would only say that the U.S. stands behind Japan 100 percent. Though he didn't mention South Korea in those remarks, Asia hands who were skeptical of Trump before sounded a bit more reassured.

MICHAEL GREEN: I would almost call it Trump foreign policy 2.0 in Asia.

KELEMEN: That's Michael Green, a former Bush administration official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Georgetown University. He says Trump did well by Japan and should reach out to South Korea, too.

GREEN: That's going to help the administration get purchase on this North Korea problem 'cause you have to be predictable with your allies if you're going to deal with a problem like North Korea.

KELEMEN: There are not a lot of options for the White House to consider, he says, adding that Trump will have to figure out how to live with a level of tension with North Korea for more than just one weekend.

GREEN: When North Korea does a provocation, the options are so bad, the tendency in Washington is to act like the French policemen in "Casablanca" and say, round up the usual suspects and go through the usual strongly worded statement and consultation with allies.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration did leave behind a playbook, though, according to Jon Wolfsthal, a nonproliferation expert now with Harvard University.

JON WOLFSTHAL: How he would engage the Chinese, how he would work to the U.N., what unilateral and bilateral sanctions we could take with our friends in the region, and it was very detailed.

KELEMEN: The U.S. could, for instance, impose sanctions on Chinese banks or companies that do business with North Korea. That would step up the pressure on China to rein in Pyongyang. The former Obama White House aide says the Trump administration could also beef up its military alliance with Japan and South Korea. At the same time, it needs to keep things in perspective. Wolfsthal describes North Korea's launch of a medium-range missile as another, quote, "incremental step" in the wrong direction.

WOLFSTHAL: This appears to be a new system, one that can be more mobile and launch more quickly. And so the administration will decide what's the appropriate response. It's still a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, but it's not as dramatic as, say, the test of an ICBM, which is probably still to come.

KELEMEN: That's a long-range missile that could reach the United States. To counter the kind of missile North Korea did test this past weekend, there's a defense system that the Obama administration offered to South Korea. Trump's defense secretary says this administration will follow through on that. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.