Mattis warns war with North could be ‘catastrophic’

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Mattis warns war with North could be ‘catastrophic’

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned that, should a diplomatic solution with North Korea fail and lead to military conflict, a war with Pyongyang would result in “the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”

In his first television interview since he assumed the post as defense chief, Mattis told CBS’ “Face The Nation” on Sunday, “The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on earth, which is the capital of South Korea.”

He went onto say that not only is North Korea a threat to the United States and the surrounding region, including Japan, but that a war would “bring danger” to China and Russia, as well.

“The bottom line is, it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into a combat if we’re not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means,” Mattis said.

Mattis also said that the Pentagon always assumes that North Korea’s ballistic missile capability is “getting better with each test.”

His remarks come ahead of North Korea’s launching of a short-range Scud-type ballistic missile from Wonsan in its Kangwon Province, early Monday, which Japan said landed in its exclusive maritime economic zone.

The defense chief did not specify what North Korea would have to do to force the United States into action.

“The president needs political maneuver room on this issue,” said Mattis. “We do not draw red lines unless we intend to carry them out.”

Likewise, Mattis did not describe a timeline for a point of no return. “At this time,” he said, “what we know, I’d prefer to keep silent about because we may actually know some things the North Koreans don’t even know.”

He added, “We’ve made very clear that we’re willing to work with China, and we believe China has tried to be helpful in this regard,” adhering to President Donald Trump’s strategy to make the utmost use of Beijing’s leverage on Pyongyang.

The Trump administration has been pushing for an approach of “maximum pressure and engagement” toward the regime, and moving away from earlier rhetoric suggesting the possibility of a military option, leaving open room for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. Such language had been the source of anxiety for South Koreans and some on Capitol Hill alike, and a group of U.S Democratic congressmen of the House of Representatives in a letter to Trump last week reminded him he would need congressional approval for any pre-emptive strike on North Korea.

Mattis visited Seoul in early February, his first overseas trip since taking the post as defense chief, underscoring Washington’s commitment to defend its allies and upholding its extended deterrence guarantees.

The Pentagon on Tuesday will, for the first time, test intercepting an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), preparing for North Korea’s growing threat to the U.S. mainland.

The exercise will test the ability of the ground-based interceptor missiles at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to shoot down an ICBM over the Pacific Ocean.

The Pentagon requested a budget of $7.9 billion for its Missile Defense Agency in the 2018 budget the White House submitted to Congress last week, which is an increase of $379 million from the previous year.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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