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Mattis on Trump-Kim Nuke Button Jabs: I'm Just Here to Defend the Country

Kim Jong-un delivers his New Year's speech in North Korea on Jan. 1, 2018. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary James Mattis wouldn’t touch the topic of President Trump’s recent tweet comparing the size of his nuclear button to Kim Jong-un’s, only telling reporters today that the Pentagon would be ready to defend the United States in any eventuality.

Trump tweeted on Tuesday, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Kim’s comments came during a New Year’s Day speech, in which he warned, “The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, and a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat.”

Chatting with reporters at the Pentagon today, Mattis was asked about Trump’s button comparison and whether the tweet was “concerning.”

“My job as the secretary of Defense is to make certain that we have forces ready to defend this country,” Mattis replied.

Pressed further on the tweet, Mattis said, “You’ll have to take it up with the president.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Trump agreed in a phone conversation today to delay scheduled joint military exercises during next month’s Winter Olympics.

“I believe it would greatly help ensure the success of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games if you could express an intention to delay joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises during the Olympics in case the North does not make any more provocations,” Moon told Trump, according to South Korea’s presidential office.

Kim said in his New Year’s address that “when it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment.”

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people and we wish the Games will be a success,” the dictator said. “Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility.”

Mattis said he doesn’t know if Kim is offering a “real olive branch,” but “the democracies and the nations that are trying to keep this from going to war and stopping the provocations of nuclear weapon development, of ballistic missile launches and that sort of thing are united and trying to keep this thing in a diplomatic solution vein.”

“But when you look at the last year of the rhetoric that has come out of Pyongyang, when you look at what has happened over the efforts to try to get him to stop shooting off missiles over the top of another nation – that sort of thing – nothing seems to have worked until you see the United Nations Security Council now three times in a row voting unanimously,” he added. “And that, remind you… China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, the United States – a dozen other countries – have all voted unanimously three times.”

“You have noticed that South Korea has now impounded two ships that were caught violating the United Nations sanctions. It is difficult for me to disassociate that he’s now wanting to negotiate on any issue with months and months of unanimous United Nations Security Council effort.”

Mattis said he “wouldn’t read too much into” the deconfliction “because we don’t know if it’s a genuine olive branch or not — obviously, we have to be open to anything that would implement a diplomatic solution.”