Mattis hints at military options on North Korea but offers no details

Kristopher Drake
September 20, 2017

US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping committed to "maximizing pressure on North Korea", the White House said Monday, amid an escalating crisis over Pyongyang's ballistic and nuclear weapons programs.

When asked, "is there any military option the USA can take with North Korea that would not put Seoul at grave risk?" on Monday, Mattis responded, "Yes, there are, but I will not go into details".

South Korea has raised the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to the peninsula.

He added, however, that North Korea is deliberately avoiding crossing a line that would "make them vulnerable", and that US and Japanese missile defenses have been ready to respond.

"We discussed the option, but that's all".

Trump has vowed that North Korea will never be allowed to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile, but he has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbour.

He also said diplomacy and sanctions are working in pressuring Pyongyang.

Even as tensions rise, the United States and its allies have stuck to a hands-off policy when North Korea test-fires its missiles. They added that if flown on a normal trajectory it could reach the USA military bases of Guam in the western pacific. It was the country's longest-ever test flight of a ballistic missile.

On North Korea's latest ballistic missile test last Friday, which saw a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile fly over Japan to land in the northern Pacific, Mattis said Japanese and USA military bases in Japan did not shoot it down because it wasn't "directly threatening any of us". Mattis confirmed that policy on Monday, saying it would not shoot down a North Korean missile unless it poses a direct threat to the United States or its allies.

The North Koreans "are intentionally doing provocations that seem to press against the envelope for just how far can they push without going over some kind of a line, in their minds, that would make them vulnerable", he said. Mattis happened to be at U.S. Strategic Command headquarters near Omaha, Nebraska, at the time of the launch and afterward condemned it for forcing "millions of Japanese" to "duck and cover".

"So they aim for the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as you know, where at least we hope no ships are around, right?"

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