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US President Donald Trump has reached out to allies in Asia, as tensions over North Korea continue to increase. It remains unclear, however, whether Trump will seek any form of military action against Pyongyang.
Trump called the prime ministers of Thailand and Singapore to discuss the potential extent of the North Korean threat and invited both of the leaders to Washington as well, according to reports published on the Reuters news agency. Trump's calls to the two Asian leaders came two days after North Korea test-fired another unsuccessful missile amid widespread international condemnation.
"They discussed ways to maintain diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea," a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. According to White House sources, trade and investment were also discussed during the calls.
A week ago, Trump had reached out to the leaders of China and Japan on the issue of North Korea as well. Trump said in recent interviews that a "major, major conflict" with North Korea was possible. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also stressed that all options remained on the table.
Trump's Chief of Staff hints at multilateral approach
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was more forthcoming about the talks. He told the ABC network in the US that the phone consultations were strategically important:
"We need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure that we have our ducks in a row," Priebus said. "So if something does happen in North Korea, that we have everyone in line backing up a plan of action that may need to be put together with our partners in the area."
Priebus confirmed that Trump was in regular touch with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, adding that the conversations with the regional leaders had been prompted by the "potential for nuclear and massive destruction in Asia" and the United States.
Improved relations with Duterte
Trump also talked with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on the weekend, who he also invited to the White House.
Duterte has been heavily criticized by human rights groups in the past year for his nationwide anti-drug campaign which led to more than 8,000 deaths, and which critics say include extrajudicial killings.
Those concerns, however, were pushed to the back burner as regional stability remains threatened by the potential escalation of the conflict.
"There is nothing right now facing this country and facing the region that is a bigger threat than what is happening in North Korea," Priebus said.