Donald Trumps defense secretary warned Pyongyang that any attack on the south would be defeated
Donald Trumps defence secretary has warned North Korea it would face an effective and overwhelming response if it chose to use nuclear weapons.
Speaking in South Korea on Friday at the end of a two-day visit, James Mattis reassured the government in Seoul that the US would step in should its northern neighbour launch any attack.
Mattis, the first senior figure in the new US administration to make an overseas visit, is expected to offer similar security reassurances to Japan despite a suggestion by Trump during the election campaign that Washingtons commitment to its closest ally in the region could weaken unless Tokyo paid more towards the cost of hosting American troops.
Any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming, Mattis said in Seoul before leaving for Japan, where he will meet the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and the countrys foreign and defence ministers.
Abe, who claimed to have established a rapport with Trump during their first meeting in New York last November, will be buoyed by reports that Mattis does not intend to broach the subject of host-nation payments towards supporting almost 50,000 US troops based in Japan.
The US also has 28,500 troops in South Korea, mostly ranged along the heavily armed border separating it from the North.
Japan has said that it pays its fair share towards maintaining a US troops presence, mainly on the southern island of Okinawa.
Abe, who is to meet Trump in Washington next week, told MPs he would remind Mattis about the significance of the Japan-US alliance.
Mattis remarks in Seoul come amid concern that North Korea could be preparing to test a new ballistic missile, in what could be an early challenge for Trumps administration.
North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and its main ally, the United States, conducted more than 20 missile tests last year, as well as two nuclear tests, in defiance of UN resolutions and sanctions.
In his New Years speech, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, said that Pyongyang was in the final stages of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Trump responded with a tweet that said, It wont happen! but has not explained how he would prevent a North Korean ICBM test launch.
The North appears to have also restarted operation of a reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear facility that produces plutonium that can be used for its nuclear weapons programme, according to U.S. thinktank 38 North.
North Korea continues to launch missiles, develop its nuclear weapons programme and engage in threatening rhetoric and behaviour, Mattis said.
North Koreas actions have prompted the US and South Korea to respond by bolstering defences, including the deployment of a US missile defence system, known as terminal high-altitude area defense (Thaad), in South Korea later this year.
Mattis and his South Korean counterpart, Han Min-koo, on Friday agreed to deploy Thaad as a defence system solely against North Koreas missile threat, the South Korean defence ministry said in a statement
China has objected to Thaad, saying it will destabilise the regional security balance, leading to calls from some South Korean opposition leaders to delay or cancel it.
Han said the agreement on Thaad indicated that South Korea would continue to enjoy strong US support under Trump. Faced with a current severe security situation, secretary Mattiss visit to Korea … also communicates the strongest warning to North Korea, he said.
Once fully developed, a North Korean ICBM could threaten the United States, which is about 9,000km (5,500 miles) from North Korea. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500 km (3,400 miles), but some are designed to travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles) or more.
Former US officials and other experts have said the United States essentially has two options when it comes to trying to curb North Koreas fast-expanding nuclear and missile programmes negotiate or take military action.
Some analysts say Chinas opposition to Thaad makes it less likely that Beijing will act to rein in North Korea – a demand made by Trump and Barack Obama.
Deepening tensions between China and the US adds to the Norths strategic value in the eyes of China, Lee Ji-yong, a professor at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Security said. It will make more difficult for the US to persuade China to cooperate in pressuring the North to give up its nuclear arsenal.