ICBM Launch Doesn't Bring US, North Korea Closer to War: Mattis

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis briefs the press prior to a commemoration of the Marshall Plan at the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis briefs the press prior to a commemoration of the Marshall Plan at the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday that the U.S. military was ready to meet North Korea's new ICBM threat but war on the peninsula was not an immediate option.

"I do not believe this (ICBM) capability in itself brings us close to war because the President's been very clear, and the Secretary of State's been very clear, that we are leading with diplomatic and economic efforts," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.

"However, the military remains ready in accordance with our alliance with Japan, with Korea," Mattis said. "We stand ready to provide options if they are necessary."

Mattis' remarks came as South Korean President Moon Jae-in renewed his willingness to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un "anytime, anyplace" to ease tensions even as President Donald Trump said that Kim could face "severe" consequences.

"I think we'll just take a look at what happens over the coming weeks and months," Trump said of North Korea. "It's a shame that they're behaving this way. Something will have to be done," Trump said in Poland ahead of his trip to the G-20 economic summit in Hamburg, Germany.

On the sidelines of the G-20 Friday, Trump was to hold a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to press Beijing to increase pressure on North Korea. Trump was also to hold his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier Thursday in Hamburg, Trump met with Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on North Korea's test launch Tuesday of a missile that was first classified by the U.S. military as an IRBM, or Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, and then later classified as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

The missile reached a height of 1,731 miles, the military said, and landed in the Sea of Japan about 540 miles off the North Korea coast and within Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone. Later analysis showed that with a flattened trajectory the missile could have hit Alaska.

North Korea said the missile was a new type of two-stage missile called the Kwasong-14. At a briefing Wednesday, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed that the missile was a new type and said that it carried a dummy warhead that may have survived re-entry into the atmosphere, which would be a milestone for North Korea's missile and nuclear programs.

In remarks to the Korber Foundation, a non-profit think tank in Germany, Moon said that "When the right conditions are fostered and when there is a chance to reverse the current tension and situation of confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, I am ready to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at any time and any place."

Moon, a liberal human rights lawyer who was elected on May 10, has seen the North conduct six missile tests since he came into office. North Korea has also conducted six underground nuclear tests, the latest one coming in September 2016.

Despite Moon's offer of peace talks, Kim Jong-un has re-committed North Korea to becoming a nuclear state with the ability to hit the U.S. mainland.

On Wednesday, Kim declared that North Korea was determined to "demonstrate its mettle to the U.S." and would never put its weapons programs up for negotiation.

North Korea's propaganda outlets said Kim was present for the launch of the ICBM and described him as "feasting his eyes" on the missile as it ascended.

"With a broad smile on his face," Kim urged his scientists to "frequently send big and small 'gift packages' to the Yankees," the official Korean Central News Agency said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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