Monday 17 December 2018

'New urgency' over North Korea nuclear threat

North Korean soldiers look at the South side while US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean defence minister Song Young-moo visit the truce village of Panmunjom in the DMZ
North Korean soldiers look at the South side while US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean defence minister Song Young-moo visit the truce village of Panmunjom in the DMZ

Robert Burns

The threat of nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday, pledging to repel any strike.

In remarks in Seoul with South Korean defence minister Song Young-moo at his side, Mattis said North Korea engaged in "outlaw" behaviour and that the US would never accept a nuclear North.

The Pentagon chief added that the North was overmatched by the firepower and cohesiveness of the US-South Korean alliance.

"North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbours and the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programmes," he said, adding that US-South Korean military and diplomatic collaboration had taken on "a new urgency".

"I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power," Mattis said.

Mattis's comments did not go beyond his recent statements of concern about North Korea, although he appeared to inject a stronger note about the urgency of resolving the crisis. While he accused the North of "outlaw" behaviour, he did not mention that US president Donald Trump has ratcheted up his own rhetoric. In August, Trump warned the North not to make any more threats against the US, and said that if it did, it would be met with "fire and fury like the world has never seen".

Song, the South Korean minister, told the news conference that he and Mattis agreed to further cooperation on strengthening Seoul's defence capabilities, including lifting warhead payload limits on South Korean conventional missiles and supporting the country's acquisition of "most advanced military assets". He refused to answer when asked whether the discussions included nuclear-powered submarines.

Some South Korean government officials have endorsed the nation getting nuclear-powered submarines amid calls for more military strength. There's a growing concern among the South Korean public that North Korea's expanding nuclear weapons arsenal, which may soon include an intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the US mainland, would undermine Seoul's long alliance with Washington.

South Korea's conservative politicians have also called for the US to bring back tactical nuclear weapons that were withdrawn from the Korean Peninsula in the 1990s. But Mattis and Song were strongly dismissive of the idea.

"When considering national interest, it's much better not to deploy them," said Song. Mattis said US strategic assets were already providing nuclear deterrence.

Trump entered office declaring his commitment to solving the North Korea problem. His administration has sought to increase pressure on Pyongyang through UN Security Council sanctions and other diplomatic efforts, but the North hasn't budged from its goal of building a fully-fledged nuclear arsenal, including missiles capable of striking the US mainland.

Sunday Independent

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