U.S. Will Act on North Korea Missiles That Pose a Threat, Mattis Says

  • Military options are available that don’t create risk to Seoul
  • U.S., Japan refrained from shooting down missiles over Japan

Trump to Seek Support on N. Korea at UN

The U.S. military is ready to take action against missiles from North Korea that pose a threat to America or its allies, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said.

North Korea has fired two missiles over Japan in the past month, both of which landed in the Pacific Ocean beyond the northern island of Hokkaido. Leader Kim Jong Un has threatened to fire missiles into waters near Guam, home to U.S. military bases in the Pacific.

James Mattis on Sept. 3.

Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg

“Those missiles are not directly threatening any of us,” Mattis said Monday when asked why the military didn’t shoot them down. “The bottom line is that, when the missiles -- were they to be a threat, whether it be to U.S. territory, Guam, obviously Japan -- Japan’s territory, that would elicit a different response from us,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that military options were available if diplomatic efforts failed to rein in Kim’s nuclear push. North Korea has said it needs the capability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon to deter an American invasion.

North Korea is “intentionally doing provocations that seem to press against the envelope for just how far can they push without going over some kind of a line in their minds that would make them vulnerable,” Mattis said. “So they aim for the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as you know, where at least we hope no ships are around, right?”

Sparing Seoul

Mattis said that the U.S. has military options available to counter North Korea that wouldn’t necessarily create a grave risk of retaliation against Seoul. The South Korean capital’s 10 million residents live just 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the border -- well within North Korea’s artillery range.

“There are many military options, in concert with our allies, that we will take to defend our allies and our own interests,” Mattis said, declining to give further details.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sept. 15 that they should both refrain from overreacting to North Korean provocations to avoid any accidental conflict.

Mattis also said that he discussed deploying tactical nuclear weapons with his South Korean counterpart, but declined to elaborate on the details. Moon’s administration in recent weeks has repeatedly denied that it would reintroduce nuclear weapons.

Mattis welcomed decisions by some countries to expel North Korean ambassadors. Spain declared Pyongyang’s envoy to Madrid “persona non grata” on Monday, and told him to leave by the end of the month. Mexico, Peru and Kuwait have either expelled or given notice to ambassadors since the Sept. 3. nuclear test.

Kuwait will not renew permits to North Korean workers to re-enter the country after projects they are working on are completed "within one or two years," France 24 reported, citing an unidentified Kuwaiti diplomat. There are between 2,000 and 2,500 North Korean workers in Kuwait, the French news network said, with thousands more believed to be in other Gulf states.

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