Mattis threatens North Korea on trip to Seoul
US President Donald Trump's defence secretary warned North Korea yesterday of an "effective and overwhelming" response if Pyongyang chose to use nuclear weapons, as he reassured Seoul of steadfast US support at the end of a two-day visit.
Defence secretaries have long offered assurances to South Korea and Japan that its nuclear "umbrella" will protect them, but James Mattis's statement was perhaps more pointed than most. He made the remarks during an appearance with his South Korean counterpart, Defence Minister Han Min-Koo.
"North Korea continues to launch missiles, develop its nuclear weapons programme, and engage in threatening rhetoric and behaviour," Mr Mattis said.
"We stand with our peace-loving Republic of Korea ally to maintain stability on the peninsula and in the region.
"America's commitments to defending our allies and to upholding our extended deterrence guarantees remain ironclad: 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."
Mr Mattis's two-day visit comes amid concern that North Korea may be readying to test a new ballistic missile, in what could be an early challenge for Mr Trump's administration.
North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and its main ally, the United States, conducted more than 20 missile tests last year, as well as two nuclear tests, in defiance of UN resolutions and sanctions.
It appears to have also restarted operation of a reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear facility that produces plutonium that can be used for its nuclear weapons programme, according to a US think-tank, 38 North.
Mr Han echoed his counterpart's concern about North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.
He said yesterday they "blatantly threaten" the international community and have created a "severe security situation" on the Korean peninsula.
He described Mr Mattis's visit so early in his tenure as a warning to North Korea.
In his New Year's speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said his nation was close to test launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Mr Trump, on January 2, tweeted, "It won't happen!" about North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear-tipped ICBM, although his precise meaning was unclear.
The Pentagon has said it would not necessarily strike a test-launched ICBM if it did not pose a threat.
Mr Mattis's trip to the region, which will include a stop in Japan, is the first foreign trip by any of President Trump's cabinet secretaries.