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President Donald Trump struck a dire note of warning about North Korea's nuclear ambitions in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
"North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland," Trump said.
The president said the United States was applying "maximum pressure" to prevent any such attack.
"Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation," Trump said. "I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position."
Last year, North Korea test launched at least three intercontinental ballistic missiles, including a Hwasong-15 in late November that raised concerns in the U.S. defense community as showed the regime's powerful new missile can reach more than 8,000 miles, including major cities on the U.S. East Coast.
Indeed, the president's harsh comments about North Korea follows CIA Director Mike Pompeo predicting Monday in a BBC broadcast that Pyongyang will be capable of delivering a nuclear-tipped ICBM to the U.S. mainland in "a handful of months."
U.S. defense experts have said that Pyongyang has the technology to have a long-range ballistic missile survive the re-entry phase from space into the earth's atmosphere. They also expect North Korea to return to testing its missiles despite a recent two-month break.
There has been recent talk that hawks in the Trump administration are pushing for the U.S. military to conduct a limited strike, or a so-called preventive attack, against North Korea. There have also been reports the administration may be looking to make a "bloody nose" strike on Pyongyang.
In perhaps a sign of the administration leaning toward a military option, the White House is no longer planning to nominate Korea scholar Victor D. Cha as its ambassador to South Korea. Cha recently opposed the "preventive strike" option in an op-ed. The New York Times reported late Tuesday that the "long-delayed plans to nominate" Cha, a former official in the President George W. Bush administration, to the Seoul post had been dropped.
Trump also called out at North Korea for its mistreatment of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old student who died last June shortly after being returned from North Korea in an unconscious state. In 2016, Warmbier confessed to trying to steal a propaganda banner in North Korea and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in prison.
"We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies," said Trump.
Trump also introduced Warmbier's family, including his parents and siblings, who were invited guests attending the State of the Union address. They received lengthy applause and standing ovations.
"You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength truly inspires us all," the president said after introducing the family. "Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto's memory with total American resolve."
Finally, Trump introduced Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who fled the isolated regime in 1996 as a starving boy. The president said Seong-ho, who is now an activist living in Seoul, was a "witness to the ominous nature of this regime."
According to Trump, Seong-ho lost limbs in an accident, was tortured by North Korean authorities and later "traveled thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape, and was tortured to death."
Seong-ho raised his wooden crutches to loud cheers and a standing ovation during the State of the Union address.