Trump seeks billions of dollars to counter North Korean missiles

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is seeking nearly $6 billion to pay for urgent missile defense improvements to counter the threat from North Korea, increased US troop levels in Afghanistan and fast repairs to Navy ships in the Asia-Pacific theater.

The budget request delivered to Capitol Hill on Monday coincided with tough words for Pyongyang from President Donald Trump during the first stop of his lengthy Asia trip. Trump sought to ratchet up pressure on North Korea by refusing to rule out eventual military action and declaring that the United States “will not stand” for North Korea menacing America or its Asian allies.

Trump denounced North Korea as “a threat to the civilized” for pursuing nuclear weapons and the development of the long-range ballistic missiles to deliver them.

The spending request designates $4 billion of the total to support “additional efforts to detect, defeat, and defend against any North Korean use of ballistic missiles against the United States, its deployed forces, allies, or partners,” according to the document. That includes current and projected threats to the US homeland, Guam, South Korea and Japan.

A large chunk of the money would be used for the construction of an additional ground-based interceptor field at Fort Greely, Alaska; the initial procurement of 20 new ground-based interceptors; ship-based missiles; and interceptors for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, a US mobile anti-missile system.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Monday that “all the name calling and all the chest beating” by Trump isn’t helpful and may actually be increasing the risks of confrontation with North Korea. Van Hollen said Trump’s rhetoric also serves the interests of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by elevating his status “in an international yelling match” with the US president.

Van Hollen is co-sponsoring bipartisan sanctions legislation that would target Chinese banks and other financial institutions found to be assisting North Korea in evading existing financial penalties.

The sanctions bill, which the Senate Banking Committee will consider on Tuesday, also would punish companies that knowingly import coal, iron, lead and seafood products from North Korea. Those goods are estimated to be worth more than $1 billion — about one-third of the country’s estimated $3 billion in exports in 2016.

Roughly $1.2 billion in the request would allow the Defense Department to deploy an additional 3,500 US troops to Afghanistan as part of Trump’s new strategy for the country where the US has been fighting since 2001, according to the budget request. Trump in August unveiled his new plan for the 16-year Afghan war, declaring that American troops would “fight to win” by attacking enemies, “crushing” al-Qaeda and preventing terrorist attacks against Americans.

The White House request comes months after Trump submitted to Congress his fiscal year 2018 defense budget, which was criticized by a senior Republican lawmaker for shortchanging missile defense programs. Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, said he was “astonished” by the shortfall given the potential threat from North Korea as well as Iran.

Thornberry’s panel and the Senate Armed Services Committee responded by increasing the missile defense budget in their respective defense policy bills. Many of the specific increases that Trump wants, according to Thornberry and Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate committee, have already been included. For example, both measures call for expanding Fort Greely to accommodate additional interceptors.

House and Senate negotiators are expected to agree on a final bill later this week.

About $700 million of the Trump request would go to the Navy to make repairs to the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald. Both ships from the Pacific-based 7th Fleet were damaged in deadly collisions that led to eight top Navy officers, including the 7th Fleet commander, being fired from their jobs

The USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided near Singapore in August, leaving 10 US sailors dead. And seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided off Japan.

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