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North Korea

It’s war if North Korea strikes Guam, US defence chief Mattis bluntly warns

Mattis said it would be ‘game on’ if North Korea fired missiles that hit the US or its Pacific territory of Guam

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 8:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 10:51am

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis warned it would be “game on” for war if North Korea fired missiles that hit the US or its territories, including the Pacific island of Guam.

“It could escalate into war very quickly - yes, that’s called war,” Mattis told reporters Monday at the Pentagon. “If they shoot at the United States, I’m assuming they hit the United States - if they do that, then it’s ‘game on’.” Asked if he considers Guam part of the US, he said, “Yeah, it sure is.”

About 7,000 US military personnel and their families are on Guam, an unincorporated US territory with a total population of 170,000. The strategic outpost is about 3,400km southeast of Pyongyang.

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After President Donald Trump warned the US would unleash “fire and fury” if  Kim Jong-un’s regime continued to threaten nuclear war, North Korea outlined a plan to fire four intermediate-range ballistic missiles to land near Guam.

It’s not that I’m over here [being] Dr Strangelove. [But] you don’t shoot at people in this world unless you want to bear the consequences
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis

Mattis was vague about what would happen if missiles were launched toward Guam but splashed into the sea. He said US surveillance would know if the missiles would hit land within moments of them being fired. “I need a certain amount of ambiguity because I’m not going to tell them what I’m going to do in each case,” Mattis said.

Mattis cautioned against portraying his words as a virtual declaration of war. He said that “is up to the president, perhaps up to the Congress. The bottom line is we will defend the country from an attack.”

Kim discussed plans for Guam with his commanding officers during an inspection of military forces on Monday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported. The North Korean leader said he will watch the US’s conduct “a little more” and praised his strategic force for drawing up “a close and careful plan,” KCNA said.

The typically blunt words from Mattis came hours after the top US general reassured South Korea that a diplomatic solution to the tensions with North Korea over its nuclear arsenal was Trump’s priority.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reaffirmed the US commitment to protect South Korea after a meeting with President Moon Jae-in, spokesman Park Su-hyun told reporters in Seoul on Monday. “Dunford told Moon everyone hopes to resolve the current situation without going to war,” Park said.

No one, whether in the US or North Korea, has the moral right to drive the world to nuclear war

Other administration officials also have sought at least a temporary halt in the war of words between Trump and Kim, which sparked fears that a miscalculation could lead to conflict.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini called in a statement Monday for North Korea to “refrain from any further provocative action.” She said the EU “and its member states will strengthen their diplomatic work by reaching out” to North Korea and South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan.

In a joint commentary in the Wall Street Journal, Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “the US is willing to negotiate with Pyongyang,” but appeared to reject China’s “suspension-for-suspension” proposal, in which North Korea would halt further nuclear and missile tests in return for the US and South Korea stopping joint military drills in the region.

US defence chief Mattis tells North Korea to cease threats that risk ‘end of regime and destruction of its people’

“Given the long record of North Korea’s dishonesty in negotiations and repeated violations of international agreements, it is incumbent upon the regime to signal its desire to negotiate in good faith,” they wrote. “A sincere indication would be the immediate cessation of its provocative threats, nuclear tests, missile launches and other weapons tests.”

Mattis, who also sought last week to emphasise diplomatic efforts, said Monday that he wasn’t trying to reignite tensions.

“It’s not that I’m over here - Dr Strangelove,” he said, but “you don’t shoot at people in this world unless you want to bear the consequences.”