US could ‘fight tonight’ if North Korea acts, Mattis says

US could ‘fight tonight’ if North Korea acts, Mattis says

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Defense Secretary James Mattis lands in Hanoi during his just concluded trip to Southeast Asia (Pentagon pool photo)

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James Mattis said military options for North Korea are “always ready” and that an attack by the North on the South will be “severely rebuffed.”

Returning from a week-long trip to Southeast Asia, Mattis told reporters Friday that the obligations the U.S. has held with South Korea since 1953 is “an ironclad alliance” and upcoming talks with his South Korea counterpart are part of that ongoing cooperation.

“We’ll continue to hold the line (on North Korea) and provide credible military options so the diplomats can speak from a position of strength and persuasion,” Mattis said. “Those military options have remained since 1953, in place. They remain there today. We could fight tonight, shoulder-to-shoulder with the South Koreans if they’re attacked.”

Mattis said the military options exist so diplomats can speak from a position of authority and thus they have to be listened to. Whether the military options influence North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s behavior is unclear, he said.

“You’d have to ask Kim Jong Un that question,” Mattis said. “I’ve got modest expectations of my ability to predict Kim Jong Un’s behavior.”

On another topic, Mattis said his visit to Vietnam, where the U.S. fought a war after fighting in Korea, was “forward-looking” between two “like-minded partners.

“Leaving things in the past as our starting point, we’re still working on removing, remediating, the effects of the war…we’re dealing with those things,” Mattis said. “We see ourselves having common ground. Neither one of us liked being colonized. And so we’ve got like-minded partners between the two of us with shared values in the terms of free and open international order, the rule of law, international law in this case, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the East Sea.”

He said a possible visit to Vietnam by a U.S. aircraft carrier my happen this spring. “It’s not final but it all looked very encouraging,” he said. He also said “absolutely” in regards to future, closer U.S.-Vietnam military cooperation.

“So ties are close now and getting closer, but we’re still getting processes down,” Mattis said. “We see it in our best interest to see an independent, sovereign, prosperous Vietnam.”

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