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Trump team low-key about failed North Korean test

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 16/04/2017 David Jackson

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration took a low-key approach to this weekend's failed missile test in North Korea, and continued to express the hope that China would rein in its nuclear-armed neighbor. 

The test "fits into a pattern of provocative and destabilizing and threatening behavior on the part of the North Korean regime," said Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser, on ABC's This Week .  "There’s an international consensus now, including — including the Chinese and the Chinese leadership — that this is a situation that just can’t continue." 

"North Korea is a liability to everybody," said deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland on Fox News Sunday, and also "a threat to China."

Hours after another failed missile launch in North Korea, Trump himself took to Twitter to suggest that China is helping with the North Korea problem as part of a deal with the U.S. involving trade policy.

"Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem?" Trump tweeted. "We will see what happens!"

Currency and North Korea were among the issues Trump discussed with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a recent summit and phone call.

Tweeting within two weeks of a missile strike in Syria and a massive bomb attack against a terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan, Trump also tweeted about a U.S. Pentagon build-up: "Our military is building and is rapidly becoming stronger than ever before. Frankly, we have no choice!"

Trump and aides had braced for a possible nuclear test in North Korea in connection with Saturday's anniversary of the birth of the country's founder.

Instead, Kim Jong-Un's government staged a massive military parade, featuring a collection of missiles, and apparently tried to stage a missile test. But a medium-range missile exploded seconds after launch.

The failure "didn't come as a surprise to us," as North Korea has had failures before, McFarland said on Fox News Sunday.

McFarland declined to comment on whether U.S. sabotaged the Korean missile launch with a cyber attack; the United States has reportedly had such a program for years.

The failed launch took place as Vice President Pence visited Seoul, South Korea, as part of an Asian tour. Pence described the attempted missile test as a "provocation" toward the south, and vowed continued U.S. protection for South Korea. "Our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger," the vice president said.

U.S. officials are looking to China to apply diplomatic pressure to North Korea and perhaps cut off financial assistance to what is essentially a client state, crippling its ability to finance a nuclear weapons program. "China is the key," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaking on NBC's Meet the Press. "China can shut them down."

The United States is not expected to retaliate for the failed missile test.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued only a terse statement: "The president and his military team are aware of North Korea's most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment."

Looking ahead, McMaster said that the administration is prepared to respond in the future if North Korea refuses to "de-nuclearize."

On ABC, McMaster said Trump has asked the National Security Council, Defense Department, State Department, and intelligence agencies to work together "so we can provide options and have them ready for him if this pattern of destabilizing behavior continues."

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