President Donald Trump stressed the strength and resolve of the U.S. military Tuesday while stating that his first priority is to "make a deal" with North Korea to avoid war.
"It makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal that is good for the people of North Korea and for the world," he said on the first day of his visit to South Korea.
At a news conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump dropped much of the "fire and fury" doomsday rhetoric he often uses on North Korea and said, "I do see certain movement" on a peaceful resolution to the crisis on the peninsula.
He did not spell out what he meant by "movement" in getting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to drop his ambitions to develop nuclear-tipped Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
Trump told reporters, "I think you know me well enough to know that I don't like talking about whether I see success or not in a case such as this. We like to play our cards a little bit close to the vest.
"I will say this -- that I believe it makes sense for North Korea to do the right thing, not only for North Korea, but for humanity all over the world," he continued. "So there is a lot of reason, a lot of good reason behind it."
South Korea's Moon said, "War must not break out again on the Korean peninsula. And in this respect, the United States has provided enormous support."
Moon, who initially opposed the placement of U.S. THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile batteries in South Korea, said, "The close coordination between Korea and the United States, and the overwhelming superiority of power that stems from the ROK-U.S. alliance, will eventually make North Korea cease its reckless provocations and make North Korea come out to dialogue for denuclearization."
Trump made repeated references to the military option if North Korea continued with its nuclear and missile programs and refused to negotiate.
He noted the presence of the aircraft carriers Nimitz, Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt and their battle groups in the North Pacific.
"You know we sent three of the largest aircraft carriers in the world, and they're right now positioned," Trump said. "We have a nuclear submarine also positioned. We have many things happening that we hope, we hope -- in fact, I'll go a step further, we hope to God we never have to use."
North Korea has thus far shown no interest in talks on a peace deal. The Korean Central News Agency, the state-run propaganda arm of the North, said Sunday, "The U.S. must drop the wild thought that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] can respond to its gangster-like demand and should not dream of the denuclearization negotiations with the DPRK."
Trump has previously stressed the military option in dealing with North Korea while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have pressed a "diplomacy first" alternative.
Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford have also repeatedly warned of the "horrific" consequences of war on the peninsula.
Moon used the news conference to press upon Trump the "anxiety" of South Koreans over the potential for war with the North. About 25 million people in the greater Seoul area are within range of thousands of North Korean artillery and rocket tubes north of the De-Militarized Zone.
"I know that you have put this issue at the top of your security agenda," Moon told Trump. "So I hope that your visit to Korea and to the Asia-Pacific region will serve as an opportunity to relieve some of the anxiety that the Korean people have due to North Korea's provocations and also serve as a turning point in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue."
In response to a request from Congress, the Pentagon gave an assessment over the weekend which concluded that the only way to find and eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons "with complete certainty" was through a ground invasion, which would trigger a bloody conflict.
The Pentagon assessment also warned that "North Korea may consider the use of biological weapons" to counter an invasion, and that the North "has a long-standing chemical weapons program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood and choking agents."
The assessment came in a letter from Rear Adm. Michael J. Dumont, vice director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, in response to a request from Reps. Ted Lieu, D-California, and Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona.
The two lawmakers had asked for "expected casualty assessments in a conflict with North Korea," including civilians and U.S. and allied forces in South Korea, Japan and Guam.
Dumont's letter noted that U.S. and South Korean action against North Korea had the potential to trigger "opposition from China or Russia."
"The Department of Defense maintains a set of up-to-date contingency plans to secure our vital national security interests," the letter said.
"These plans account for a wide range of possibilities, including third-party intervention and address how best to contain escalation," the letter said.
Russia and China could offer opposition, but they also "may prefer to avoid conflict with the United States, or possibly cooperate with us," the letter said.