U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, echoing the warnings of President Donald Trump, said North Korea can expect a "massive military response" if it threatens the United States, the U.S. territory of Guam or America's allies.
Mattis, Trump and the president's top advisers met at the White House Sunday about North Korea's announced hydrogen bomb test. The Pentagon chief came out to talk with reporters briefly afterwards to say the U.S. is not looking for the "total annihilation" North Korea, but "we have many options to do so."
North Korea’s repeated provocative ballistic missile tests and now a sixth nuclear test – this one perhaps the first time it has successfully detonated a thermonuclear device – have presented Trump with this most critical geopolitical crisis of his young administration.
“Secretary Mattis expressed the only viable option in his statement, which is a firm and clear deterrent policy toward North Korea,” said Hoover Institution Fellow Michael Auslin. However, Auslin told VOA, the goal of North Korea's denuclearization, which Mattis also repeated Sunday, unrealizable.
“Continuing to insist on denuclearization means further rounds of negotiations, and the past quarter-century has shown that negotiations do not work,” he says. “The Trump administration has the opportunity to chart a new, more realistic course for U.S. policy, but not if it adopts the failed policies and goals of previous administrations.”
Other analysts and officials reacting to the extraordinarily stark remark from the Pentagon chief are hoping for diplomatic discussions instead of more tough military talk. Mattis’ "imprecision was counterproductive. Will there be a massive military response against any 'threat'? This word choice was a blunder along the lines of the promise of 'fire and fury' against any North Korean threats,” said Frank Aum, a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute.
Aum, the former senior adviser for North Korea at the Defense Department, told VOA: "It’s telling that the defense secretary was the one who was addressing the press. We need to get away from a military-centric approach to the North Korea problem set and reinvigorate diplomacy.”
The president, leaving a church service near the White House earlier Sunday, said only, “We’ll see” when a reporter asked if he was planning to order an attack on North Korea.
"We will work with our allies. We will work with China," Mnuchin told a television interviewer (Fox News) Sunday. "But people need to cut off North Korea economically. This is unacceptable behavior." The North claimed its test of a hydrogen bomb small enough to be carried by an intercontinental ballistic missile was a "perfect success."
One U.S. intelligence official says there is no reason to doubt North Korea's claim that the nuclear device it detonated underground Sunday was 10 times more powerful than its fifth nuclear test a year ago. "We’re highly confident this was a test of an advanced nuclear device – and what we’ve seen so far is not inconsistent with North Korea’s claims," the intelligence official said.
The blast shook buildings across the border in China and Russia.
In earlier Twitter remarks, Trump called North Korea "a rogue nation" whose "words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States." The U.S. leader said North Korea "has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success."
But Trump also rebuked U.S. ally South Korea, saying Seoul "is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!" Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke by telephone Sunday – their fourth conversation since Tuesday, when North Korea launched a ballistic missile high over Japan.
North Korea test-fired two ICBMs in July that were believed to have a range long enough to reach the mainland United States. Pyongyang says its missile development is a defensive effort to protect itself from U.S. attack.
Pyongyang and Washington have carried out a war of increasingly bellicose threats in recent weeks, with North Korea at one point saying it was planning to launch one or more test missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam - evidently intending not to strike Guam, but to aim its rocket to splash down just outside territorial waters. Trump responded then that if Pyongyang attacked the United States or its allies, he would respond with "fire and fury like the world has never seen."
North Korea declared its hydrogen-bomb test was a "perfect success" in a special broadcast Sunday afternoon, Asia time. The blast produced an earthquake that was detected in the Punggye-ri region, where North Korea’s nuclear test facility is located. Another tremor a few minutes later was believed to be due to the collapse of a tunnel used for the detonation, which would not be unusual following a test of this magnitude.
The United States and Japan, and perhaps other countries, dispatched planes to take air samples in the region to determine whether any radiation from North Korea could be detected. The United Nations Security Council has called for an emergency meeting Monday morning on the situation on the Korean peninsula.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the nuclear test as "profoundly destabilizing for regional security." National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, Brian Padden in Seoul contributed to this report