April 29, 2017 / 12:36 AM / 3 months ago

U.S. could speed up North Korea sanctions in response to missile test - official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration could respond to North Korea's latest failed missile test by speeding up its plans for new U.S. sanctions against Pyongyang, including possible measures against specific North Korean and Chinese entities, a U.S. official told Reuters on Friday.

With North Korea acting in defiance of pressure from the United States and North Korea's main ally, China, Washington could also conduct new naval drills and deploy more ships and aircraft in the region as a show of force, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It's possible that something could be sped up," the official said of the potential for imposing a limited package of targeted sanctions on North Korea. "Something that's ready to go could be taken from the larger package and expedited."

The source said the ballistic missile launch was the kind of "provocation" that had been anticipated ahead of South Korea's May 9 election, and President Donald Trump could use the test-firing to further press China to do more to rein in North Korea.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the missile fired from a region north of Pyongyang was probably a medium-range missile known as a KN-17 and appears to have broken up within minutes of taking off.

Should North Korea test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile as it has threatened, Washington would consider it a more dangerous milestone, the administration official told Reuters, suggesting it would draw a much tougher U.S. response.

The Trump administration is especially worried about Pyongyang's work to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States. Washington is also watching closely for the possibility of North Korea's sixth nuclear test.

The missile test came just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned the United Nations Security Council that failure to curb North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to "catastrophic consequences."

The official said any new sanctions could be rolled out in coming days and may hit a number of entities that have already been "vetted" by the U.S. government for such measures, while the administration continues crafting a broader sanctions package.

The targets, the official said, could include financial institutions and front companies in North Korea as well as China, which could anger Beijing.

While Trump has praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for signalling increased cooperation on the North Korea issue, the official said Beijing still "needs to draw some sort of line in the sand" with Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.

The military options under active consideration include displays of U.S. power in the region meant to deter North Korea and reassure U.S. allies South Korea, the official said.

But it stops short of pre-emptive U.S. military strikes, which could run the risk of massive North Korean retaliation and huge casualties in Japan and South Korea and among U.S. forces in both countries.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sandra Maler and Mary Milliken

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