Standing in the tense demilitarized zone dividing North Korea and South Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said America isn’t looking for a fight, but is ready for one.

“Our goal is not war,” Mattis said Friday of the nuclear missile threat from North Korea under dictator Kim Jong Un, “but rather the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”


“We’re doing everything we can to solve this diplomatically—everything we can,” he added. “Our diplomats have to be backed up by strong soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines, so they speak from a position of strength, of combined strength, of alliance strength, shoulder to shoulder.”

The U.S. has troops in South Korea and Japan, as well as numerous strategic military assets in the region.

For the first time in a decade, the U.S. has three carrier battle groups operating in the Pacific theater of operations.

While the Trump administration has made clear that all options are on the table, including the threat of military action, Mattis has argued for diplomacy from the beginning.

“We would win at great cost,” Mattis told a congressional committee during the summer, adding, “It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want.”

Mattis previously said war with North Korea would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale.” At the same time, the defense secretary has stressed that the U.S. is ready to deliver a crushing blow should it come to that.

As North Korean guards stood just a few feet away, the sounds of patriotic North Korean music in the air, Mattis called North Korea an “oppressive regime that shackles its people, denying their freedom, their welfare, and their human dignity in pursuit of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery in order to threaten others with catastrophe.”

Despite international pressure, Mattis added, North Korean provocations continue. North Korea has launched around two dozen missiles this year and tested a suspected hydrogen bomb with an explosive yield far greater than anything the regime previously tested.

When Mattis first visited South Korea as secretary of defense in February, he said the U.S. will stand beside regional allies against the North Korean threat and respond with “overwhelming” force if North Korea attacks. His most recent visit reinforces that commitment.

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