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North Korea Remains a Diplomatic Effort Amid Rising Tensions: Mattis

A TV shows file footage of a North Korea's missile launch and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A TV shows file footage of a North Korea's missile launch and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

WASHINGTON -- Despite saber-rattling, missile tests, and declamations on both sides, dealings between the United States and North Korea remain fully in the sphere of diplomacy, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday.

North Korea has become increasingly aggressive with its missile testing program this year, conducting its first intercontinental ballistics missile test in July. Multiple military leaders have advised that America must act as if the rogue nation has the ability to conduct a nuclear attack.

In turn, the United States has responded with ramped-up shows of force and rhetoric threatening military action.

"Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid hasn't worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, making fools of U.S. negotiators," President Donald Trump tweeted days ago. "Sorry, but only one thing will work!"

Trump did not further elaborate as to what that "one thing" is.

But against this backdrop, Mattis maintained that the only job of the Army at present is to stand ready against the threat.

"It is right now a diplomatically led, economic sanction-buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off this path," Mattis said. "And what does the future hold, neither you nor I can say, so there's one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is we've got to be ready to ensure we have military options that our president can employ if needed."

Mattis continued that the U.N. security council had held two unanimous votes to impose stronger sanctions on North Korea.

"The international community has spoken," he said. "But that means the U.S. Army must stand ready. So if you're ready, that's your duty at this point in time. And I know the Army will always do its duty."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.