Most Utahns are worried about North Korea's nuclear program, but very few favor a military strike to stop it


People watch a TV news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch, at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Sept. 5, 2016. North Korea fired three ballistic missiles off its east coast Monday, South Korea's military said, in a show of force timed to the G-20 economic summit in China. The letters on the screen read: "North Korea, ballistic missiles to east coast." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Washington • More than eight in 10 Utahns are concerned about North Korea’s nuclear program but they are split on what approach to take — continuing with sanctions or conducting direct negotiations with the rogue country, a new poll by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics found.

Only 11 percent of Utah voters support using military force against North Korea.

The poll, conducted Oct. 10-13, shows a dip in concern from July, (82 percent, down from 87 percent) when tensions between the United States and North Korea escalated as Kim Jong Un’s military was conducting missile tests in the South China Sea.

But Utahns’ opposition to the military option in North Korea has remained steady, with support from little more than one in 10 registered voters.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said last week that the Trump administration would not stand idly by as North Korea seeks to miniaturize a nuclear bomb and create intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The American people should be concerned about a state that has developed a pretty good ICBM capability and is developing a pretty good nuclear re-entry vehicle,” Kelly told reporters. “I would believe — I think I speak for the administration — that that state simply cannot have the ability to reach the homeland.”

President Donald Trump seemed to offer a vague threat about North Korea in remarks earlier this month, standing around top military leaders and asking reporters if they knew what it represented.

Tell us,” one reporter responded.

Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” Trump replied.

The White House has not clarified his remarks.

While accuracy still seems an issue for North Korea’s program — as well as the ability to place a nuke atop the missiles — experts say tests so far show the possibility of the country being able to hit the western United States and possibly deeper into the country, even as far as Salt Lake City, at some point soon.

The Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll found 42 percent of Utah voters were very concerned about North Korea and 40 percent somewhat concerned. Some 13 percent said they were not concerned and only 3 percent were not worried at all.

When it comes to dealing with the totalitarian state, though, Utahns either want to continue sanctions (36 percent) or conduct direct U.S.-North Korean negotiations (37 percent). Just 11 percent favored military action, while 5 percent said to let China handle it, and 3 percent said North Korea wasn’t the United States’ problem.

Older voters were more concerned about North Korea than their younger counterparts. More conservatives (55 percent) said they were very worried as compared to those who described themselves as somewhat liberal (31 percent expressed concern) or very liberal (35 percent).

Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute, says North Korea’s nuclear program is of “deep concern” for Utahns.

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea are high,” Perry said. “With missile launches and comments from President Trump, this continues to be a part of the news cycle keeping it at the forefront of people’s minds.”

Perry added that Utahns have a “unique global perspective” and favor diplomatic solutions and embargoes.

No one wants to go to war,” he said.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, on Friday introduced legislation to impose new financial sanctions against North Korea that would target foreign banks that do business with the regime.

Congress cannot afford to wait around and see what happens with North Korea,” Love said. “We have a constitutional responsibility to keep our nation safe. None of us want to see lives lost because of the maniacal desires of Kim Jong Un. We must act swiftly to ensure we’re doing everything we can to rein in the tyrannical North Korean regime. This is an important step in doing that.”

The latest Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, interviewed 605 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percentage points.