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(News Focus) Mattis plays warning and overture cards on N. Korea

2017/10/28 16:12

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By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Oct. 28 (Yonhap) -- Traveling to Korea less than two weeks before U.S. President Donald Trump's trip to the region, the Pentagon chief James Mattis apparently tried to balance between warning and peace messages on North Korea.

In talks with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo on Saturday, Mattis agreed that the North's provocations won't be tolerated.

He stated that the North is no match for the allies' combined defense posture and it will be defeated with a "massive military response" should it use nuclear weapons.

"If it remains on its current path of ballistic missiles and atomic bombs, it will be counterproductive, in effect, reducing its security," he said at a joint press conference with Song after their Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks at a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart Song Young-moo after their talks in Seoul on Oct. 28, 2017. (Yonhap) U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks at a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart Song Young-moo after their talks in Seoul on Oct. 28, 2017. (Yonhap)

He reiterated that the U.S. has many military options to counter the North's threats. He would not go into detail.

He also reaffirmed that the U.S. will continue to stand with South Korea and its people in the ironclad alliance.

He emphasized, however, military options are not a top priority yet.

"Diplomacy is our preferred course of option," he said. "As I repeatedly emphasized, our diplomats are most effective when backed by credible military force in this sort of situation."

   The secretary disapproved of a call for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to Korea. He cited proliferation-related concern especially among neighboring countries.

Touring the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a heavily armed area separating the two Koreas, a day earlier, Mattis said publicly that Washington's goal is not war but the denuclearizaton of Korea.

He took a softer tone than many expected in the unprecedented statement on the North issued during his unprecedented visit to the DMZ as the defense secretary.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis visits the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo on Oct. 27, 2017, in this photo provided by the Joint Press Corps. (Yonhap) U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis visits the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo on Oct. 27, 2017, in this photo provided by the Joint Press Corps. (Yonhap)

His second trip to the peninsula this year came amid more than a month of hiatus in the unpredictable North's provocative acts.

There's speculation that Pyongyang and Washington are unofficially in contact with one another aimed at resuming dialogue.

In what may be a goodwill gesture, the North sent back a South Korean fishing boat and its crew Friday. Pyongyang said it seized the vessel about a week before for "illegally" sailing into its waters.

It remains unclear whether it was a pure humanitarian measure or politically motivated.

Meanwhile, there was no news of a major new agreement in the allies' defense ministerial talks, the first since the inauguration of the left-leaning Moon Jae-in government and the conservative Trump administration.

South Korea pushed for formalizing the proposed "future command" to replace the allies' existing Combined Forces Command (CFC), which is among core preparatory works in efforts to regain its wartime operational control (OPCON) of its armed forces as early as possible.

But the two sides only agreed to "refine" the draft plan.

There was no specific announcement either on the deployment of U.S. strategic assets to and near Korea, which refer to such powerful weapons as bomber planes, aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines.

Song and Mattis might have decided to defer a key deal for the summit between Moon and Trump in early November, observers said.

lcd@yna.co.kr

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