U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited the Korean Peninsula’s demilitarized zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea on Friday morning, amid heightened tensions over the North’s nuclear program, emphasizing diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean missile and nuclear crisis.
“Our goal is not war but rather the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” Mattis referenced the words of his colleague, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as he stood at the truce village of Panmunjom.
He accused North Korea of building a nuclear arsenal to “threaten others with catastrophe” and said the Trump administration remains committed to forcing the North to accept nuclear disarmament.
His remarks came before U.S. President Donald Trump’s trip to Asia, including a stop in South Korea to meet President Moon Jae- in. There had been fears of a rift between Trump, who has taken a more aggressive stance towards North Korea, and his South Korean counterpart Moon, who has pressed for negotiations with Pyongyang in an attempt to tamp down tensions.
At the DMZ, Mattis was briefed by South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo, who said the North’s nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles are “weapons that cannot be used” by Pyongyang.
“If it does, it will face retaliation by the strong combined forces of South Korea and the US,” he said adding that the two ministers had used the visit to reaffirm the strength of the alliance.
North Korea has been a thorn in the side of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, after a series of nuclear and missile tests by Pyongyang and its continued threats and provocations, stoking fears any miscalculation could lead to an armed confrontation, putting the US and its Asian allies on high alert.
Mattis also warned the U.S. is prepared to take military action if the North doesn’t halt its development of missiles that could strike the mainland United States.
“We’re doing everything we can to solve this diplomatically, everything we can,” Mr Mattis said, “But ultimately our diplomats have to be backed up by strong soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.”