Tension on the Korean peninsula eased slightly on Monday as South Korea’s president said resolving North Korea’s nuclear ambitions must be done peacefully and U.S. officials played down the risk of an imminent war.
Concern that North Korea is close to achieving its goal of putting the mainland United States within range of a nuclear weapon has underpinned a spike in tension in recent months.
U.S. President Donald Trump warned at the weekend that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely after threatening last week to land missiles near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
“There must be no more war on the Korean peninsula. Whatever ups and downs we face, the North Korean nuclear situation must be resolved peacefully,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in told a regular meeting with senior aides and advisers.
“I am certain the United States will respond to the current situation calmly and responsibly in a stance that is equal to ours,” he said.
While backing Trump’s tough talk, U.S. officials including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster played down the risk on Sunday of the rhetoric escalating into conflict.
“I think we’re not closer to war than a week ago, but we are closer to war than we were a decade ago,” McMaster told ABC News’ “This Week”.
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might conduct another missile test but talk of being on the cusp of a nuclear war was overstating the risk.
“I’ve seen no intelligence that would indicate that we’re in that place today,” Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday”.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal the United States was adopting a policy of “strategic accountability” towards North Korea, and was applying diplomatic and economic pressure “to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a dismantling of the regime’s ballistic-missile programs”.
“While diplomacy is our preferred means of changing North Korea’s course of action, it is backed by military options,” they said.