Senator warns of U.S. war with North Korea

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Senator warns of U.S. war with North Korea

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the Oval Office in Washington D.C. on July 31. [AP/YONHAP]

U.S. President Donald Trump said that there will be war with North Korea if the regime continues to aim an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) carrying a nuclear warhead at the United States, according to a Republican senator on Tuesday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on NBC’s Today show on Tuesday that President Trump told him in person, “There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM.”

Graham continued, “If there’s going to be a war to stop them, it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there, they’re not going to die here, and he’s told me that to my face.”

A war scenario on the Korean Peninsula would put millions of lives in the region in danger and many defense experts, as well as U.S. government officials and congressmen, have warned against a military option.

But while Graham acknowledged that “Japan, South Korea, China would all be in the cross hairs of a war if we started one with North Korea,” he pointed out that Trump would ultimately choose U.S. security over regional stability.

“It’s inevitable unless North Korea changes,” Graham said of a war scenario, “because you’re making our president pick between regional stability and homeland security.”

He indicated options are running out, adding, “They kicked the can down the road for 20 years - there’s no place else to kick it.”

“When you’re the president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States,” said Graham.

The senator pointed out that both the Chinese and North Koreans are “miscalculating” Trump, and urged Beijing to choose to pressure North Korea diplomatically or else face military action.

“The only way that they [North Korea] are going to change is if there is a credible threat of military force on the table,” said Graham. “President Trump has said, ‘I will not allow them to get an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top to hit America.’ They’re heading that way.”

“He has told me that. I believe him,” the lawmaker said. “If I were China, I would believe him, too, and do something about it. You can stop North Korea, militarily or diplomatically.”

Graham, a former Republican presidential candidate who dropped out of the 2016 race in December 2015, was vocally critical of Trump during his campaign.

When reminded that defense experts have underscored that there is no good military option, Graham declared, “They’re wrong. There is a military option: To destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself.”

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified to a U.S. House Armed Services Committee in June that of some 25 million people in Seoul, 30,000 are Americans “who are within range of thousands of rockets, missiles and artillery pieces along the border.” Dunford said while he is confident the United States would be victorious in a war with North Korea, “We will see casualties unlike anything we’ve seen in 60 or 70 years,” referring to the Korean War of 1950-53.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis echoed a similar message during the same meeting. He had warned in an interview with CBS in May that military conflict with the North would probably be “the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetime.” He elaborated that “it would be a catastrophic war,” and urged diplomacy.

When asked to verify if destroying North Korea is an option, as Graham indicated, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said “The president has been very outspoken about the need to stop North Korea. We’ve been very focused on stopping the nuclear program, stopping the missiles, stopping the aggression.”

She added, “That still continues to be the focus, and we’re keeping… all options on the table in order to do that.”

But Sanders didn’t straight out deny Graham’s assertions about Trump’s statements. U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson, however, said that Washington is not seeking North Korean regime change and would like dialogue with Pyongyang at some point.

“We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek the collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel,” Tillerson said speaking to reporters at the State Department Tuesday. “We’re not your enemy, we’re not your threat, but you’re presenting an unacceptable threat to us and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them.”

However, he added that “a condition of those talks is there is no future where North Korea holds nuclear weapons or the ability to deliver those nuclear weapons to anyone in the region, much less the [U.S.] homeland.”

Tillerson urged China, North Korea’s closest ally, to use its influence to create conditions for such a dialogue, pointing out that the other options were “not particularly attractive.”

His remarks come amid mounting tension around the Korean Peninsula following two ICBM tests conducted by Pyongyang last month. An annual joint military exercise between Seoul and Washington will kick off on Aug. 21, and such combined drills have led to increased provocations from the North.

Washington is considering dispatching two U.S. aircraft carriers to the Korean Peninsula, according to Seoul government officials, in an apparent show of force following North Korea’s ICBM launches.

A Blue House official, however, recommended focusing on Secretary Tillerson’s statements on North Korea, while adding on Graham’s remarks, “We are watching over this part. Our two countries’ leaders will have a chance to hold a phone conversation, so there will be various discussions back and forth.”

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

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