After President Donald Trump warned on Friday that the US military is “locked and loaded” and presumably prepared for an all-out nuclear showdown with North Korea, administration officials engaged in that most artful of Trump-era maneuvers: softening the president’s rhetoric without appearing to undercut him.
Now that financial markets are taking the threat of nuclear war between the US and North Korea seriously - or were until this morning - the administration is trying to walk a fine line between reassuring investors that nuclear war isn’t imminent, while stressing that all military options remain on the table. Echoing comments made by CIA Director Mike Pompeo on the Sunday talk shows, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford emphasized during a meeting with South Korea's president that the US will only resort to military options once all "diplomatic and economic sanctions" have been exhausted, according to Reuters.
“U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford said on Monday U.S. military options being prepared against North Korea would be for when diplomatic and economic sanctions failed, South Korea's president's office said on Monday.
Dunford made the comments to South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a 50-minute meeting to discuss recent issues including North Korean provocation, office spokesman Park Su-hyun told a media briefing.”
A report in the New York Times expanded on the chairman's remarks, which were published by local media in Korean, but were translated by the US media.
“The United States military’s priority is to support our government’s efforts to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through diplomatic and economic pressure,” General Dunford was quote as saying in a Korean-language statement released by Mr. Moon’s office after the meeting. “We are preparing a military option in case such efforts fail.”
Dunford added that he was supporting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s effort to push the North toward talks, and a possible peaceful resolution, though “as a military leader” Dunford said it’s still his duty to make sure the president has “viable military options.” Though he also stressed that the North's nuclear program threatens "the entire global community," as the Hill reported.
'U.S. military spokesman Capt. Darryn James said Dunford "stressed that North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program threaten the entire global community.'
'He conveyed America’s readiness to use the full range of military capabilities to defend our allies and the U.S. homeland,' James said.”
Dunford also said that the US intends to honor its commitment to protect South Korea, and that the relationship between the two countries “has not changed,” according to Bloomberg.
“General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to protect South Korea after a meeting with President Moon Jae-in, spokesman Park Su-hyun told reporters in Seoul on Monday. He added that the military option would only be used if diplomatic and economic pressure fail, Park said.
‘Dunford said the U.S.’s security commitment for South Korea’s defense has not changed,’ Park told reporters after Moon’s meeting with the general. ‘Dunford told Moon everyone hopes to resolve the current situation without going to war.’”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met with Dunford during his visit, separately called for a peaceful solution on Monday. "There must not be another war on the Korean Peninsula," he said, according to his office.
However, Pyongyang maintained its tough rhetoric against the South and the US on Monday, accusing Washington of mobilizing a large number of troops and weapons for annual military drills set to take place with South Korea later this month.
"What matters is that if a second conflict (on the peninsula) erupts, that cannot help but lead to a nuclear war," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a commentary. "We are closely monitoring every move by the United States."
The Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's Workers' Party newspaper, previously said that around 3.5 million students and workers had volunteered to join or rejoin the army in preparation for a possible confrontation with the US. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping called Trump on Saturday to urge restraint regarding the North Korean crisis, advising both Washington and Pyongyang to avoid words or actions that could worsen the situation.
During his trip in Asia, the general intends to emphasize that Washington is expected to complete the deployment of the Thaad missile system in South Korea, despite China's repeated protests issue that bothers the Chinese. The visit to Beijing was planned long before the escalation in tensions with North Korea, according to the Times.