MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA — Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday said the Trump administration’s diplomatic strategy on North Korea is “gaining traction.”
“My responsibility is to have military options should they be needed. However, right now … you can see the American effort is diplomatically-led, it has diplomatic traction, it is gaining diplomatic results, and I want to stay right there, right now,” he said.
“The tragedy of war is well-enough known, it doesn’t need another characterization in the fact that it would be catastrophic,” he added.
Mattis cited as evidence that diplomacy was gaining traction last week’s successful U.S.-led effort to get the United Nations Security Council to vote on tougher sanctions against North Korea. The sanctions — if applied fully — will affect a third of the regime’s income.
“How often do you see France and China, Russia, the United States, and I could go on. How often do you see them voting unanimously on any issue?” he said to a group of journalists gathered in Silicon Valley where he is traveling as part of a technology-focused trip.
“And you saw that last weekend. So the diplomats and the intelligence community I think have characterized it quite accurately — and you see that diplomatically-led effort to get this under control gaining traction because of that danger,” he said.
The war of words between North Korea and the U.S. heated up after the Washington Post published a story that said North Korea can now miniaturize a warhead on top of a missile — a capability that brings the regime a step closer to producing a nuclear weapon that can hit the U.S.
Asked about the report, Trump on Tuesday said North Korea would “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to make threats to the U.S.
On Wednesday, North Korea threatened to conduct missile tests around Guam. Mattis then warned North Korea to cease considering actions that would lead to the destruction of its regime and people.
But Mattis said while the administration does have military options to deal with North Korea, it is prioritizing the diplomatic track.
“I think the most important thing is to recognize, if you’re going to an objective down the track, and you want to take your vehicle and your train down the track, you need two rails. And we have two rails that are mutually supporting,” he said.
“Right now, we put diplomatic track out in front, and that is aligning allies, it’s bringing onboard people who often don’t agree on all issues. You see that keenly in various arguments,” he said.
“But again, what you saw last weekend, led by [U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley] and her very effective U.S. United Nations team, was a consensus, a unanimous opinion this is a threat to world peace, to global order, and it’s aligning the United Nations and very serious sanctions,” he said.
“I would just tell you that that didn’t just happen by accident. That shows where the Trump administration goes in terms of the prioritizing of the threat, but also on how to deal with it in a diplomatically effective manner.”