US ready to use its 'military options' if diplomacy fails
The United States is ready to use the "full range" of its military capabilities to deal with North Korea, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff told his South Korean counterparts yesterday, amid widening pressures on the regime of Kim Jong-un.
But Gen Joseph Dunford, speaking in Seoul, just 30 miles south of the border with North Korea, stressed diplomacy and sanctions were the first plan.
"The military dimension today is directly in support of that diplomatic and economic effort," he told reporters after meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul.
"It would be a horrible thing were a war to be conducted here on the peninsula, and that's why we're so focused on coming up with a peaceful way ahead," he said. "Nobody's looking for war," the marine general said. But he added that the military's job was to provide "viable military options in the event that deterrence fails".
He was on the first stop of a trip that will also take him to Beijing today and then on to Tokyo, three capitals that do not want war to break out on their doorsteps.
China, meanwhile, signalled a potentially important break with North Korea as part of international sanctions.
Beijing announced yesterday that it would ban imports of iron ore, iron, lead and coal from North Korea, cutting an important economic lifeline for Pyongyang. The ban will take effect from today, China's Ministry of Commerce announced.
In the meetings with the South Korean president and other top officials yesterday, Gen Dunford appeared to offer a modified version of the threats that US President Donald Trump has issued.
Mr Trump last week warned North Korea it would face "fire and fury" if it tried to attack the United States or its allies. Then on Friday, after North Korea threatened to launch missiles toward Guam, Mr Trump warned the regime the American military was "locked and loaded".
But top administration officials appear focused on trying to play down the prospect of nuclear war. HR McMaster, the US national security adviser, said "we're not closer to war than a week ago". This echoed the tempered statements Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made earlier in the week, even as the president was warning of military action.
South Korean government officials have voiced surprise and confusion at Mr Trump's tough talk of the past week.