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A stark warning

Secretary of defense tells North Korea that any nuclear threat faces an “overwhelming” response

Secretary of defense tells North Korea that any nuclear threat faces an “overwhelming” response

In his first overseas trip as defense secretary, James Mattis has warned North Korea that any attack on the U.S. or any of its allies would be “overwhelmingly” defeated, following reports that Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is ready to start testing a missile capable of reach U.S. soil.

Speaking in Seoul on Thursday, Mattis sought to reassure South Korea that it will be protected should North Korea follow through on its threat to launch nuclear missiles. Mattis also made clear to China that a controversial missile defence system being put in place is not a threat to it.

After talks at the defense ministry with his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo, Mattis told reporters that “any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.”

North Korea has recently claimed that it is almost ready to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could threaten the western seaboard of the U.S. Addressing this, Mattis said: “North Korea continues to launch missiles, develop its nuclear weapons program, and engage in threatening rhetoric and behavior,” adding that U.S. commitments to defending its allies “remain ironclad.”

Before he left for South Korea, Mattis was warned by Republican Sen. Bob Corker – chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – that he would be “staring down the barrel of a North Korean ICBM,” citing reports that North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear warhead and restarted production at a plutonium reactor in recent weeks.

In January, U.S. President Donald Trump seemed to suggest that the U.S. may be prepared to carry out some sort of military action to prevent North Korea’s weapons development. Trump tweeted, “It won’t happen!” — though he didn’t explain exactly how the administration would prevent it.

Mattis and his South Korean counterpart discussed a timetable for deploying the missile defense system Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAAD). The system will protect South Korea and Japan — another key U.S. ally in the region — as well as the almost 80,000 U.S. troops stationed in the two countries.

The missile system has caused some controversy, as both China and Russia see it as a provocative move, with China claiming it would allow the U.S. to spy on its military.

Responding to this concern, Mattis said Thursday: “THAAD should be a worry to no nation other than North Korea.” However, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told the BBC on Friday that Beijing “remained firmly opposed to the deployment of the missile system.”

On Friday Mattis traveled to Japan to hold talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where he will seek to firm up the strong military alliance between the two countries. Abe is due in Washington next week to speak face-to-face with Trump, where he will be looking for clarification about White House policies on trade and currency issues.

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