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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that military action is "not a first choice" in the range of options the United States is considering against North Korea.
The comments come days after Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters outside the White House Sunday that any threat to the U.S., its territories, or allies "will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming."
"We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, but as I said, we have many options to do so," Mattis finished, taking no questions.
The White House has been clear that all options remain on the table in dealing with North Korea after the country claimed to detonate its largest ever nuclear test explosion on Sunday.
In a separate gaggle Wednesday on Air Force One, the president said he had a "very good conversation" with Chinese President Xi Jinping that morning, and that the two leaders will talk again soon. Trump's North Korea strategy has hinged heavily on convincing China to help dissuade North Korea from continuing its nuclear program and its provocations.
Leaving St. John's Church in downtown Washington, D.C., over the weekend, President Trump told reporters "we'll see" when asked if he would attack North Korea after Pyongyang's latest launch and he repeated that on Wednesday. Trump previously promised to visit "fire and fury" upon North Korea in the past if it continues to act provocatively or if it strikes any of America's allies. He later wondered if that vow wasn't "tough enough."
But in recent days the president has tweeted several other approaches to the North Korea issue, like "stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea" and "allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States."
Asked Tuesday if the president realizes that sanctions might not be the most effective avenue against North Korea, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters "now is not the time for us to spend a lot of time focused on talking with North Korea, but putting all measures of pressure that we can. And we're going to continue through that process."