Four crucial words from Mike Pence have put the US in a tough position against North Korea

Vice President Mike Pence stood on the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan in Yokosuka, Japan on Wednesday and reassured thousands of US Navy sailors and regional allies that “the sword stands ready” to strike at North Korea’s Kim regime.

But President Donald Trump’s administration has repeated this message time and time again.

The most important four words Pence has said on his Asia trip so far were in response to a key question: Will the US talk to North Korea?

Not at this time.”

Pence has repeated nearly verbatim statements from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the US’s strategic patience ending with North Korea, and other military threats by other Trump officials.

But his words aboard the Reagan about an “overwhelming and effective” response to any use of conventional or nuclear weapons by North Korea rang hollow.

The US Navy has told Business Insider that the forward-based Reagan will be tied up with refittings and training exercises for months. In a perplexing mix-up, the USS Carl Vinson, which the US Navy first announced would head to North Korea on April 8, was photographed 3,500 miles away in Indonesia on April 15.

Speaking of the carrier mix up, South Korea’s conservative candidate for its May election, Hong Joon-pyo, said, “What Mr. Trump said was very important for the national security of South Korea. If that was a lie, then during Trump’s term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says,” as the Wall Street Journal notes.

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. CastellanoThe aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the Sunda Strait. 170415-N-BL637-044 SUNDA STRAIT (April 15, 2017) The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the Sunda Strait.

Indeed on both the North Korean and US side of the conflict, all talk of military action can likely be dismissed as bluster.

Nuclear thunderbolts” and “all out war” have been promised by North Korea, but any conflict between the US and the Kim regime would be incredibly bloody, likely resulting in the near complete destruction of North Korea, unacceptable civilian losses in South Korea and possibly Japan, and US military bases in the region devastated by missile and artillery fire.

None of the dozen or so North Korea experts contacted by Business Insider rate large-scale military action against the regime as credible. China must know this. North Korea, on some level, must know this.

North Korea has repeatedly offered to scale back its nuclear program if the US stops its annual military drills with South Korea, which the US has dismissed, saying that planned, regularly occurring military exercises that have gone on for 40 years without leading to war can’t be equated to a state that often threatens to nuke its neighbours.

Trump brought two new ideas to the North Korean stalemate: threaten military force and leverage the US’s trade relationship with China to force their hand against the Kim regime.

But military force won’t work and there’s just not much China can do.

In light of military and economic measures failing, diplomatic engagement looks like only option left, but Pence made the US’s stance on this clear: “Not at this time.”

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