NEW YORK: The United States wants a diplomatic solution to the escalating nuclear crisis with North Korea, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday, toning down the shrill rhetoric between the two countries.
“We maintain the capability to deter North Korea’s most dangerous threats but also to back up our diplomats in a manner that keeps this as long as possible in the diplomatic realm,” he said in New Delhi after talks with his Indian counterpart.
“That is our goal, to solve this diplomatically, and I believe that President Trump has been very clear on this issue,” the US defense chief said.
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un have become embroiled in a bitter war of words after the North detonated its sixth nuclear bomb and test-fired intercontinental missiles — saying it needs to defend itself against the threat of a US invasion.
Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons ambitions — including a suggestion last week that it could test an H-bomb over the Pacific — has increased international fears of conflict.
Alarm over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs dominated this year’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.
Mattis said the United States was continuing to put pressure on the North’s leadership through diplomatic channels.
“We continue to maintain the diplomatically-led effort in the United Nations. You have seen unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions passed that have increased the pressure, economic pressure and diplomatic pressure, on the North,” he said.
China warned Tuesday that any conflict on the Korean peninsula would have “no winners,” after North Korea accused Trump of declaring war on it.
Beijing reiterated its plea for peace talks after the bellicose rhetoric between the United States and North Korea reached new heights in recent days, following Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test early this month.
China hopes Washington and Pyongyang realize that “blindly flaunting one’s superiority with words to show off and mutual provocation will only increase the risk of confrontation and reduce the room for policy maneuvers,” said foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang.
“A war on the Korean peninsula will have no winners and would be even worse for the region and regional countries,” Lu told a regular news briefing.
Trump tweeted at the weekend that North Korea’s leadership “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps up its threats.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho accused Trump of declaring war, and warned that his country would be ready to shoot down US bombers.
The US dismissed as “absurd” North Korea’s accusation that Trump has declared war against the regime, after Pyongyang said it was ready to defend itself by shooting down American bombers.
Speaking to reporters outside his New York hotel, Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho responded to Trump tweeting at the weekend that North Korea’s leadership “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps up its threats.
Ri, who attended this year’s UN General Assembly session, said the international community had hoped that a “war of words” would “not turn into real actions.”
“However, last weekend, Trump claimed our leadership would not be around much longer,” Ri said. “He declared a war on our country.”
The White House disputed Ri’s interpretation of Trump’s saber-rattling.
“We have not declared war against North Korea and frankly the suggestion of that is absurd,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Risk of accidental clash
As the rhetoric heated up, South Korea appealed for an easing of tensions, with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha saying that further provocations can be expected from Pyongyang but must not be allowed to get out of control.
“It is imperative that we, Korea and the US together, manage the situation… in order to prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes which can quickly go out of control,” Kang said in Washington.
South Korea has reacted with unease to Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea as its densely-populated capital Seoul is located just 35 miles from the demilitarized zone dividing the Korean peninsula.