Mat­tis cools war rhetoric af­ter North Korean mis­sile test

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CARLO MUÑOZ AND S.A. MILLER

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis tried to turn down the tem­per­a­ture Thurs­day on the con­fronta­tion over North Korea’s first suc­cess­ful test of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, say­ing the move had not pushed the U.S. closer to the brink of war while warn­ing Py­ongyang that it risked “se­vere con­se­quences” if it con­tin­ued down the path to­ward a long-range nu­clear weapon.

De­fense De­part­ment and pri­vate an­a­lysts were blind­sided by Py­ongyang’s July 4 test of its first in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, whose range is cal­cu­lated to be able reach the en­tire state of Alaska.

But fol­low­ing strong con­dem­na­tions Wed­nes­day by Pres­i­dent Trump and Am­bas­sador to the U.N. Nikki Ha­ley, Mr. Mat­tis, a re­tired four-star Marine gen­eral, ar­rived unan­nounced at the Pen­tagon press brief­ing room Thurs­day to de­liver a more tem­pered con­clu­sion.

“I do not think this ca­pa­bil­ity, in and of it­self, brings us closer to war,” Mr. Mat­tis said of the launch of the Hwa­song-14 mis­sile, which flew higher and far­ther than any pre­vi­ous North Korean mis­sile.

“The pres­i­dent’s been very clear, the sec­re­tary of state’s been very clear, that we are lead­ing with diplo­matic and economic ef­forts,” Mr. Mat­tis said.

Mr. Trump, who dined with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe on the side­lines of the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ger­many on Thurs­day evening, talked tough but stayed far away from specifics on what he planned to do about Py­ongyang.

Talk­ing to re­porters in Poland be­fore trav­el­ing to Ger­many, Mr. Trump said only that he had “some pretty se­vere things” in mind to re­spond to the North’s mis­sile test.

“That doesn’t mean we are go­ing to do them,” Mr. Trump quickly added, ac­knowl­edg­ing the dicey sit­u­a­tion. “I think we will just take a look at what hap­pens over the com­ing weeks and months with re­spect to North Korea.

“It is a shame that they are be­hav­ing this way,” the pres­i­dent said. “But they are be­hav­ing in a very, very dan­ger­ous man­ner and some­thing will have to be done about it.”

A day ear­lier, Mrs. Ha­ley bluntly warned that a U.S. mil­i­tary re­sponse was on the ta­ble, say­ing Py­ongyang’s ac­tions were “quickly clos­ing off the pos­si­bil­ity of a diplo­matic so­lu­tion.”

“One of our ca­pa­bil­i­ties lies with our con­sid­er­able mil­i­tary forces. We will use them if we must, but we pre­fer not to have to go in that di­rec­tion,” she said at an emer­gency meet­ing of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Lead­ing with diplo­macy

Cool­ing the hawk­ish rhetoric, Mr. Mat­tis told re­porters at the Pen­tagon that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was still pur­su­ing a diplo­matic, not mil­i­tary, strat­egy to ad­dress the North Korean threat.

“The mil­i­tary re­mains ready,” he said. “We stand ready to pro­vide op­tions if nec­es­sary, but this is a purely diplo­mat­i­cally led [ef­fort] but­tressed by the mil­i­tary.”

Mr. Mat­tis re­fused to de­tail po­ten­tial mil­i­tary ac­tions should diplo­matic ef­forts fail to curb Py­ongyang’s nu­clear and bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­grams.

“We will ad­dress this one step at a time,” he said.

The U.S. and its al­lies con­cede that they have few levers to pres­sure North Korea, which has pur­sued nu­clear weapons and the mis­siles to de­liver them de­spite years of sanc­tions and in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion. Mr. Trump has ex­pressed grow­ing frus­tra­tion that China — the North’s sole sig­nif­i­cant ally, trad­ing part­ner and source of aid — has not done more to re­strain North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

A mil­i­tary strike runs the risk of ig­nit­ing a re­gional war that threat­ens mas­sive loss of life in South Korea and Ja­pan. Tens of thou­sands of U.S. troops are sta­tioned in both coun­tries.

Rus­sia and China have com­pli­cated the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hopes to present a united front against North Korea, float­ing a plan this week to freeze the North’s nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams in ex­change for an end to joint South Korean-U.S. mil­i­tary ex­er­cises that the North con­sid­ers a pre­lude to an in­va­sion. The U.S. has re­jected that ap­proach.

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