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Mattis Explains Why U.S. Hasn't Shot Down Any North Korean Missiles

James Mattis at a military parade in Mexico

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday that the U.S. has not moved to shoot down any of North Korea's test missiles because "those missiles are not directly threatening any of us."

"Obviously, Japan's missile defenses are up, and their radars are operating. Ours are. And they are 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 told reporters. "So they aim for the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as you know, where at least we hope no ships are around, right?"

"And the bottom line is that, when the missiles -- were they to be a threat, whether it be to U.S. territory, Guam, obviously Japan's territory -- that would elicit a different response from us."

Last week, Pyongyang fired an intermediate-range missile over Hokkaido, Japan, reaching its greatest test distance of 2,300 miles before splashing down.

"There are many military options, in concert with our allies that we will take to defend our allies and our own interests" should it come to that, Mattis vowed. "What we've done with the sanctions is we are putting the leader in North Korea in a position to be aware that the international community, voting unanimously twice now in the United Nations Security Council, seeing the increasing diplomatic isolation that comes with it, comes with the economic sanction that there's a penalty to be paid for ignoring international concerns and norms."

The Defense secretary acknowledged that there is a military option on the table against North Korea, but he would not go into details.

The Pentagon said Mattis spoke Thursday evening with Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera after the latest ICBM launch.

"The secretary reassured his Japanese counterpart of America's unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan and the broader security of the region," Director of Defense Press Operations Col. Rob Manning said. "Secretary Mattis and Minister Onodera agreed that the North Korean provocation called for a strong demonstration of a unified front between the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, and agreed on the importance of robust trilateral defense cooperation between the three nations."