Defense Secretary James Mattis appeared on “Face the Nation” with John Dickerson on Sunday and repeated his warning that an armed conflict with North Korea would be “catastrophic” for US allies in the region, and that it "would be probably the worst kind of fighting" because of the North's proximity to the South Korean capital, Seoul.
“A conflict in North Korea, John, would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people's lifetimes. Why do I say this? 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."
Mattis told a Pentagon news conference earlier this month that a war with the north would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale," suggesting that the Trump administration would seek to exhaust all alternatives before resorting to military action.
“We are working with the international community to deal with this issue. This regime is a threat to the region, to Japan, to South Korea. And in the event of war, they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well. But 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 affirms that the North is a threat to the US, but he stops short of drawing a line in the sand when he tells Dickerson he’d prefer not to answer a question about what the North could do, if anything, to provoke a response from the US. The president, Mattis said, needs “political maneuver room on the issue.”
“It is a direct threat to the United States. They have been very clear in their rhetoric we don't have to wait until they have an intercont- intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon on it to say that now it's manifested completely.”
"Yeah, I'd prefer not to answer that question, John. The president needs political maneuver room on this issue. We-- we do not draw red lines unless we intend to carry them out. 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.”
North Korea launched another missile into the Sea of Japan Sunday evening, a few hours after Mattis appeared on the show, and shortly after the Pentagon said it is preparing to test its capability to shoot down an intercontinental-range missile next week.