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Trump talks to China's Xi about North Korea

President Trump with President Xi Jinping in July (Associated Press)
President Trump with President Xi Jinping in July (Associated Press)

President Trump spoke Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping on how to constrain North Korea following its latest and most powerful nuclear test, in the president's latest call with world leaders on the crisis.

Trump, who has sought for months to convince China to do more to restrain Pyongyang from testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, suggested that Xi had become more supportive.

“I believe that President Xi agrees with me 100%," Trump told reporters after the 45-minute conversation. "He doesn’t want to see what’s happening there either."

"We had a very, very frank and very strong phone call,” Trump added,  "President Xi would like to do something."

Asked if he was considering military action, the president offered a cautious response, saying "Certainly that's not our first choice."

"But," he said several times, "we will see what happens."

In recent weeks, Trump has threatened to rain "fire and fury" on North Korea if it threatened the U.S. and its allies, and said that "talking" was not the solution. He has taken a more measured response since the weekend's nuclear test, reaching out to talk with leaders in China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and elsewhere. 

And while Defense Secretary James N. Mattis warned Sunday that North Korea faces "annihilation" should it provoke a war, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has sought conditional negotiations and pressed for additional economic sanctions.

Potential allies against Pyongyang, such as China and South Korea, have been dismayed at the mixed messages emanating from Washington.

In their last conversation around three weeks ago, Xi urged Trump to show restraint, warning that “concerned parties” should avoid “remarks and actions” that could escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula, according to the Chinese account of the call.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to impose new sanctions on Pyongyang after it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July that U.S. officials said were capable of reaching U.S. soil.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un backed down on his government's threat to fire mid-range ballistic missiles into waters off the U.S. territory of Guam, and Tillerson told reporters he was encouraged by the apparent show of restraint.

That abruptly changed last week when North Korea fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan and then conducted an underground test of what it said was a hydrogen bomb, a major advance if true.

The nuclear test --  said to be 8 to 10 times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 -- drew swift worldwide condemnation and ratcheted tensions back up.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told an emergency session of the Security Council on Monday that Pyongyang was "begging for war."

Mattis testified about North Korea to the House and Senate in closed-door sessions on Wednesday after he spoke to his counterparts in South Korea and Japan. 

Mattis reassured both allies that the U.S. commitment to the defense of the countries “remains ironclad” and he promised Japan “to enhance its ballistic missile defense capabilities,” according to Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White.

Nicholas Burns, a veteran former diplomat under Republican and Democratic administrations, urged careful diplomacy instead of threats to deal with North Korea. He also cautioned against regarding Kim as a madman.

"We're dealing with a government that's in control of its territory, that's acting strategically," Burns, now a professor at Harvard University, said on PBS' Charlie Rose Show.

"This doesn't seem to be a suicidal regime," Burns said. "It doesn't seem to be an irrational regime. They're calculating. We've got to meet them measure for measure in a sophisticated, diplomatic campaign ourselves."

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