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Trump, Xi visit: Leaders face North Korea dilemma

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President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart have any number of reasons to disagree, but none are more volatile or potentially deadly than North Korea.
As Trump and President Xi Jinping meet for their first summit, Pyongyang’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear and missile expertise will top the agenda. US officials warn that the era of what’s known as strategic patience is over. Trump recently declared that “if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. ”
But that threat of unilateral action glosses over just how complicated the North Korea dilemma is. For decades, the US has sought a way to defang North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, but they’ve only gotten stronger. Experts say it’s not going to be any easier for Trump.
“Every administration has wrestled with this pig, trying to figure out what to do,” said Timothy Phillips, a national intelligence fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Experts, officials and lawmakers say there are a number of reasons the North Korean challenge is so thorny. They point to the country’s erratic and all-powerful 33-year-old leader Kim Jong Un; to the fact that the ideal outcome for the US would be seen as a disaster in China; to the limited tools of influence the US has and to the cost of a military clash to America’s closest Asian allies.
“Nobody else has been able to come up with the answer in 20 years,” said Scott Snyder, director of the program on US-Korea policy at CFR. “This is a crisis that has catastrophic implications. ”
It’s been brewing since 1995, when the US and North Korea signed an agreement that would freeze and dismantle Pyongyang’s old nuclear reactors. North Korea went on to violate a series of pacts meant to shut down its program. It’s soon expected to conduct its sixth nuclear test. 
“Since last year, Kim Jong Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined, while making continued progress toward an ICBM capable of targeting nearly the entire continental US,” said Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia.
Given the “urgent and global threat” Pyongyang poses, the administration feels “the time for talk is over,” acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton told reporters. When Trump sits down with Xi in Mar-a-Lago, Thornton said he’ll say that “we will be looking for help from China to increase the pressure. ” 
Analysts say there aren’t any really new options for dealing with Pyongyang. “Dialogue, pressure and deterrence, or military measures — it’s really just a question of how the Trump administration is going to shuffle the deck they inherited,” Snyder said.
The US could apply more pressure on North Korea directly. Yoho suggests using “robust support for injecting outside information” into the closed country, to disrupt its control over its citizens, as well as more sanctions. The administration announced a new round on March 31.
Another option is to pressure Beijing by applying so-called secondary sanctions against Chinese firms that do business with North Korea, which Snyder said will cause friction. “How do you unilaterally impose sanctions on Chinese firms doing business with North Korea without risking the cooperation you need from China to put pressure on North Korea,” he asked.

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