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Mattis: 'We're Never Out of Diplomatic Solutions' to Rein in North Korea

After President Trump tweeted Thursday that “talking is not the answer” to North Korea’s nuclear program, Defense Secretary James Mattis countered that the U.S. is “never out of diplomatic solutions.”

Pyongyang launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile this week in an unprecedented flyover of Japan, setting off alerts on the ground in Hokkaido. South Korea said the missile was launched from near North Korea’s capital and flew for about 2,700 km. Japan said the Hwasong-12 was over Hokkaido for two minutes of the missile’s 14-minute flight.

North Korea warned that its launch was “a meaningful prelude to containing Guam.”

According to the official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Jong-un said North Korea would “be fully ready to go into action for decisive battle so as to launch powerful ballistic rockets anytime and thus check military racket of the U.S. imperialists and their followers and firmly guarantee the security of the country and the happiness of the people.”

Trump tweeted: “The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!”

At a campaign rally last week in Phoenix, Trump said of Kim, “I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much.”

Welcoming South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo to the Pentagon on Thursday, Mattis said the relationship “becomes more important than ever in remaining the bedrock for international efforts to temper North Korea’s aggressive actions.”

On Wednesday night, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea’s Japan launch plus multiple short-range missile tests conducted on Aug. 25.

“The Security Council further demands that the DPRK immediately comply fully with all of its other obligations under all relevant Security Council resolutions, including that it shall: abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, and immediately cease all related activities; not conduct any further nuclear tests or any further provocation; and abandon any other existing weapons of mass destruction in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner,” stated the condemnation.

Mattis said the Security Council action “shows the world is united in diplomatic efforts to stop North Korea and their reckless, intolerable behavior.”

“And here in Washington, we are keenly aware that South Korea is on the front lines and we are not complacent,” he added to his South Korean counterpart. “We note with confidence that you have pledged to increase defense spending under President Moon. And in the interest of keeping our alliance fit for these times, we must continue to deepen our military relationship, building on the high level of trust that exists between our two nations.”

Asked about Trump’s tweet and whether the U.S. is out of diplomatic solutions to rein in Kim, Mattis simply replied, “No.”

“We’re never out of diplomatic solutions,” the Defense secretary elaborated. “We continue to work together, and the minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nations, our populations and our interests, which is what we’re here to discuss today — and look for all the areas which we can collaborate within an already very strong collaboration. We always look for more. We’re never complacent.”