Seoul, South Korea | AFP | South Korea pledged Thursday that there would be no war on the Korean peninsula, as prospects of a pre-emptive US strike to destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear missile program receded.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In moved to reassure his citizens that Seoul has an effective veto on US military action, after weeks of sabre-rattling from both US President Donald Trump and the North’s Kim Jong-Un.
And in Washington, senior officials, while insisting the US military stands ready to respond to any aggression from Pyongyang, stressed that they are working in close coordination with both South Korea and Japan.
“I will prevent war at all cost,” Moon told a press conference to mark his first 100 days in office. “I want all South Koreans to believe with confidence that there will be no war.”
His assurance came shortly after Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, gave a candid interview to American Prospect magazine in which he admitted that the threat Pyongyang’s artillery poses to civilians effectively precludes pre-emptive action.
“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us,” he said.
Bannon may not have been speaking on behalf of the US government in the interview, and Secretaries of Defence and State Jim Mattis and Rex Tillerson took a tougher line after talks with their Japanese counterparts.
But they stressed that they were working in close coordination with Seoul and Tokyo and seeking the help of China to pressure Kim’s regime to come to the table to negotiate the denuclearization of the peninsula.
And they warned that the United States has the means to respond to any aggression initiated by North Korea.
– ‘Strong military consequences’ –
“Very simply, in the event of a missile launch towards the territory of Japan, Guam, the United States, Korea, we would take immediate specific actions to take it down,” Mattis told reporters.
“I can just assure you that, in close collaboration with our allies, there are strong military consequences if DPRK initiates hostilities,” he warned.
Tillerson stressed that the goal was to convince Kim that he faces a “bleak future” of total diplomatic isolation if he continues down the nuclear path.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who was in Washington with Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera to meet Mattis and Tillerson, agreed.
“On North Korea, towards its denuclearization, we agreed we would ramp up effective pressure. We will call on China to take specific measures to make North Korea change its behaviour,” he said.
Tensions have soared on the peninsula in recent months after Pyongyang carries out its first successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), bringing many US cities within its range.