Shanahan breaks with Trump over North Korea missile test

Defense secretary's assessment contradicts Trump

By Zachary Cohen, CNN
Martin H. Simon - Pool/Getty Images

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan

(CNN) - Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Wednesday that North Korea's recent missile tests are a violation of United Nations resolutions -- an assessment that contradicts comments made by President Donald Trump.

"Let me just be clear: these were short range missiles. Those are a violation of the UNSCR," Shanahan told reporters while traveling to Jakarta.

That conclusion is at odds with Trump's own assertions about North Korea's missile tests. The President told reporters during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday that he does not think the latest North Korean missile tests violated UN resolutions.

"My people think it could have been a violation," Trump said. "I view it differently." The President added that he thinks Kim Jong Un could be a man "who wants to get attention," but said there are no nuclear tests or long-range missiles being fired.

Trump also tweeted Sunday he doesn't view North Korea's short-range missile tests as disturbing.

"North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me," he wrote, posting the tweet ahead of his meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Trump's mention of "my people," is a reference to national security adviser John Bolton, who said just a day earlier that "there is no doubt" the tests violated the UN resolutions, a sentiment the Japanese government agrees with.

"The UN Security Council resolution prohibits the launch of any ballistic missiles and there is no doubt that North Korea has violated the resolution," Bolton said on Saturday.

Current UN resolutions demand that North Korea not launch any ballistic missiles. Back in October 2006, the UN responded to North Korea's first nuclear test by passing Resolution 1718 which imposed sanctions and demanded that North Korea "not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile."

Earlier this month, CNN obtained a new satellite image indicating the rocket launched by North Korea was likely a short-range ballistic missile, according to the group that analyzed the picture.

"The location of the launch, the thick, smoky appearance of the exhaust and the fact that there is only one rocket trail all suggest this was the short-range ballistic missile that North Korea showed in its propaganda," Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute said at the time.

Following that report, a US official told CNN that an early analysis showed the launches "appear to have been both MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems) and what is being looked at as a possible short range ballistic missile."

Since that time, both Shanahan and Bolton have confirmed North Korea did in fact test a short range ballistic missile.

The missile test, North Korea's first since 2017, served as a clear warning of leader Kim Jong Un's frustration at the state of talks with the US, which have been deadlocked since Trump walked out of their Vietnam summit early in February, Lewis told CNN earlier this month.

Asked about the President's comments on North Korean missile launches Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said that she believes "the entire North Korean WMD program, it's in conflict with the UN security resolutions."

"But what the US is focused on here, what the Secretary's focused on, where he's trying to support the President, is trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the North Korean WMD program and we have said many times, and will continue to reiterate that the economic sanctions will remain in place until we are there," she added, referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pressed on the question, Ortagus said, "I don't think it was lost on any of us that the launches were an attempt to send a message to the administration" and stressed that they want the talks to continue.

Despite the apparent gap between Trump and his top advisers, Shanahan insisted Wednesday that the administration remains aligned on it core mission with regards to North Korea.

"We're still aligned around full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. There's been no wavering on that, right? No wavering," he said.

"A short-range missile, is that a violation? Yes," Shanahan added, noting that the Department of Defense's job is to enforce sanctions and "be ready in the situation that diplomacy fails."

"My focus is on readiness. I think we have been very consistent. Very aligned there," he said.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Kaitlan Collins contributed reporting.

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