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

Frederick Owens
September 20, 2017

The United States has military options for North Korea that do not put Seoul at grave risk, Washington's top defense official said Monday.

Mattis made the remark on Monday during a news briefing at the Pentagon when asked whether there were military options that would not seriously endanger Seoul.

And with every known military option - from launching Tomahawk cruise missiles to air strikes - its likely that North Korea would interpret any strike, however limited, "as a prelude to invading or overthrowing the government, even if the United States insists otherwise", Daryl Press, a scholar of nuclear deterrence at Dartmouth College, told The Atlantic. "But I will not go into details".

Military options available to Trump range from non-lethal actions like a naval blockade aimed at enforcing sanctions to waging cyber attacks and positioning new USA weaponry in South Korea, where the United States has 28,500 troops. Mattis acknowledged discussing that with his South Korean counterpart but declined to say whether that option was under consideration.

South Korea has raised the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to the peninsula. "I want to say", he said.

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The US president has not ruled out a military option, which could leave millions of people in the South Korean capital - and 28,500 US soldiers stationed in the South - vulnerable to potential retaliatory attack.

The United States and its allies have been scrambling to respond to North Korea's accelerating nuclear program, which appears to be growing more sophisticated.

He said North Korea is deliberately carrying out tests that come as close as possible to provoking the US without drawing a military response. The Pentagon chief also said the USA did not shoot down the ballistic missile that North Korea fired over Japan last week, as the allies did not consider it a direct threat to their national security.

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

Its request, however, was rejected during talks with Joseph Yun, special representative for North Korea policy, and Eliot Kang, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. The ministry said that after looking at the missile's height, distance, speed and flight time with their USA counterparts, they can conclude that it was a Hwasong-12 intermediate range rocket.

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