PANMUNJOM (South Korea) • US Defence Secretary James Mattis emphasised diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean missile and nuclear crisis as he stood at the tense and heavily fortified border between North and South yesterday, saying: "Our goal is not war."
His remarks came before President Donald Trump, who has threatened to destroy the North if necessary, leaves on his first trip to Asia next week, including a stop in South Korea to meet President Moon Jae In.
For his part, Mr Moon, after talks with Mr Mattis, said the "aggressive deployment" of US strategic assets in the region, which have included overflights by US bombers, had been effective in deterring the North Korean threat.
Tension between North Korea and the United States has been building after a series of nuclear and missile tests by Pyongyang and bellicose verbal exchanges between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, stoking fears that any miscalculation could lead to an armed confrontation.
"North Korean provocations continue to threaten regional and global security despite unanimous condemnation by the United Nations Security Council," Mr Mattis said in prepared remarks as he visited the demilitarised zone.
"As Secretary of State (Rex) Tillerson has made clear, our goal is not war, but rather the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula."
Standing alongside Mr Mattis, South Korean Defence Minister Song Young Moo said: "We together will continue to defend peace through strong will and strong might."
Our goal is not war, but rather the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
UNITED STATES DEFENCE SECRETARY JAMES MATTIS
Ahead of Mr Trump's visit to Asia, Mr Mattis has emphasised diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
At the same time, the US and South Korean militaries are looking for ways to deter Pyongyang and bolster the South's defences.
Washington's top military officer, Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has met his South Korean counterpart, General Kyeong Doo Jeong, a US military statement said.
The US on Thursday imposed sanctions on seven North Koreans and three entities for "flagrant" human rights abuses, including killings, torture, forced labour and the hunting down of asylum seekers abroad.
Separately, Pyongyang released a South Korean fishing boat which had been found to be in North Korean waters illegally, state media said. The 10 crewmen - seven South Koreans and three Vietnamese - were released yesterday.
The return of the boat, which had been reported missing last Saturday, may have eased strained ties between North and South.