US defense chief: Military must ‘be ready’ to confront North Korea

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said the US military must “be ready” to confront North Korea amid threats by Pyongyang and continued missile testing.

Speaking on Monday at the Association of the US Army’s annual meeting, Mattis said the US strategy for North Korea at the moment was a “diplomatically led, economic sanctioned, buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off its path.”

And while “neither you nor I can say” what the future holds, Mattis said, “there’s one thing the US Army can do, and that is you have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ if needed.”

“But that means the US Army must stand ready, and so, if you’re ready, that’s your duty at this point in time. And I know the Army will always do its duty,” he added.

US President Donald Trump said last week that years of talking to the North and providing aid haven’t worked and that there was “only one thing [that] will work” to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Mattis’s comments came as Russia was warning against escalating tensions with Pyongyang.

In a phone call between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Lavrov “stressed the unacceptability of an escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula, which the American military preparations in the region are leading to,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Russia’s top diplomat “called for resolution of differences exclusively through diplomatic methods.”

Trump tweeted last week that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate” and added that “only one thing will work!”

The US has not ruled out the use of force to compel Pyongyang to halt missile and nuclear tests, and Trump has threatened to destroy the country.

The US and its ally South Korea staged drills in September near the heavily-fortified border with North Korea.

China has proposed a plan, which Russia has backed, in which North Korea would suspend its nuclear weapons program in return for the United States halting its military drills in the region.

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