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Diplomacy is best response to North Korean missile launches

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

North Korea's first ballistic missile test in more than two months is the latest sign that pressure to halt its development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is not working. The test follows a visit to Pyongyang by a high-level Chinese envoy, the U.S. government's re-designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the deployment of three American carrier task forces to the region.

U.S. options — a military attack or a mix of deterrence and defense — have not changed or improved. What's needed is a serious diplomatic effort to freeze weapons testing. This would not solve the problem, as North Korea already has dozens of warheads and missiles, but it would at least limit the strategic threat to the United States.

At this stage, calling on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and missiles no longer counts as serious diplomacy. The Trump administration should make clear what it is willing to offer in exchange for such a freeze, whether sanctions relief, a formal end to the state of war or an adjustment to U.S.–South Korean military exercises.

What's next: There is no certainty North Korea would accept such an offer, but it might. And if not, having tried would make it less difficult to rally international support for further pressure on the regime — or, ultimately, to make an unattractive choice between attacking North Korea or resigning ourselves to its long-term U.S. security risks.

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