Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned on Monday that the U.S. military would be prepared to intercept a missile fired by North Korea if it was headed to Guam, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un alerted his army that it should always be fire-ready.
Mattis told reporters that the U.S. military would know the trajectory of a missile fired by North Korea within moments and would “take it out” if it looked like it would hit the U.S. Pacific territory.
“The bottom line is, we will defend the country from an attack; for us (U.S. military) that is war,” Mattis said.
North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Kim received a report from his army on plans to strike the area around Guam, but also said he would watch U.S. actions before making any decisions on next steps.
“The United States, which was the first to bring numerous strategic nuclear equipment near us, should first make the right decision and show through actions if they wish to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and prevent a dangerous military clash,” Kim was cited as saying in the report by KCNA.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said the EU would intensify its diplomatic efforts with North Korea, the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
Mogherini called on North Korea “to refrain from any further provocative action that can only increase regional and global tensions.”
U.S. officials and South Korea’s president in recent days have played down the risk of an imminent conflict after Washington and Pyongyang exchanged fiery rhetoric last week.
But Mattis told reporters that war could break out if North Korea were to fire a missile at the United States.
“If they fire at the United States, it could escalate into war very quickly,” Mattis said.
President Donald Trump warned last week the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely after threatening to land missiles in the sea near Guam later this month.
Mattis said that if a North Korean missile were headed toward the waters near Guam, instead of aimed directly at the island, then the president would decide what action to take.
Concern that North Korea is close to achieving its goal of putting the mainland United States within range of a nuclear weapon has caused tension to spike in recent months.
Tension on the Korean peninsula had eased slightly earlier on Monday as South Korea’s president said resolving North Korea’s nuclear ambitions must be done peacefully.
World stocks rose along with U.S. Treasury yields and the U.S. dollar as investors regained an appetite for riskier investments amid an easing of tensions.
“There must be no more war on the Korean peninsula. Whatever ups and downs we face, the North Korean nuclear situation must be resolved peacefully,” President Moon Jae-in told a meeting with senior aides and advisers.
“I am certain the United States will respond to the current situation calmly and responsibly in a stance that is equal to ours,” he said.
Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday sent a conciliatory message to North Korea in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, which also appeared aimed at easing China’s concerns about U.S. intentions toward its neighbor.
Tags: Democratic People s Republic of Korea, Guam, Jim Mattis, Kim Jong Un, Manila Bulletin, North Korea, North Korea's Kim puts army on alert; U.S. warns it can intercept missile, President Donald Trump, South Korea, United States