As President Donald Trump prepares to make his first speech to the United Nations, Secretary of Defense James Mattis was pushing the administration’s line on North Korea, saying that the US has “many military options” available for toppling North Korea’s unstable regime that wouldn’t risk millions of deaths in Seoul.
“There are many military options, in concert with our allies, that we will take to defend our allies and our own interests,” Mattis said, declining to elaborate or provide any further details.
The Trump administration has repeatedly insisted that “all options” remain on the table when dealing with North Korea, and that the US wouldn’t hesitate to consider a military solution if diplomatic efforts and sanctions fail to halt the Kim regime's rapidly progressing nuclear program. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been exchanging threats of nuclear annihilation for months, with Trump famously promising to deliver “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen” if the North doesn’t cease its threats to the US.
Of course, many believe that, despite the administration's rhetoric, it still lacks a cohesive US military strategy for toppling the Kim regime – at least one that doesn’t involve risking millions of lives in Seoul, which is less than 50 miles from the North Korean border. Former Trump Chief Strategist Steve Bannon once said in a now famous interview that there is no military alternative for dealing with the North that wouldn’t involve potentially millions of deaths in Seoul from conventional weapons fire.
Mattis also said that he discussed deploying tactical nuclear weapons with his South Korean counterpart, but declined to elaborate on the details.
After the North has twice fired intermediate range missiles over the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, the former general added that the US is prepared to shoot down any North Korean missiles that pose a threat to its territory or that of its allies – comments that are particularly relevant following the North’s decision
“Those missiles are not directly threatening any of us,” Mattis said Monday when asked why the military didn’t shoot them down.
“The bottom line is that, when the missiles - were they to be a threat, whether it be to U.S. territory, Guam, obviously Japan - Japan’s territory, that would elicit a different response from us,” he said.
Mattis - confirming what investors have known for some time - said North Korea is “intentionally doing provocations that seem to press against the envelope for just how far can they push without going over some kind of a line in their minds that would make them vulnerable,” but that the country doesn't pose a threat to the US.
When the North fires its missiles, Mattis said, "they aim for the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as you know, where at least we hope no ships are around, right?”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sept. 15 that they should both refrain from overreacting to North Korean provocations to avoid any accidental conflict.
Mattis praised decisions by countries to expel North Korean ambassadors. Spain declared Pyongyang’s envoy to Madrid “persona non grata” on Monday, and told him to leave by the end of the month. Mexico, Peru and Kuwait have either expelled or given notice to ambassadors since the Sept. 3. nuclear test.
Kuwait will not renew permits to North Korean workers to re-enter the country after projects they are working on are completed "within one or two years," according to Bloomberg. There are between 2,000 and 2,500 North Korean workers in Kuwait, with thousands more believed to be in other Gulf states.
Rallying international pressure against North Korea and Iran is expected to be the top priority of the Trump's trip to the United Nations General Assembly this week. Reports that surfaced late Monday claimed that Trump is planning to label Iran and North Korea as "global threats" during his first address to the General Assembly, set to begin at 10 a.m.