WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump warned North Korea on Tuesday that any U.S. military option would be “devastating” for Pyongyang, but said the use of force was not Washington’s first option to deal with the country’s ballistic and nuclear weapons program.
“We are totally prepared for the second option, not a preferred option,” Trump said at a White House news conference, referring to military force. “But if we take that option, it will be devastating, I can tell you that, devastating for North Korea. That’s called the military option. If we have to take it, we will.”
Bellicose statements by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in recent weeks have created fears that a miscalculation could lead to action with untold ramifications, particularly since Pyongyang conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3.
Despite the increased tension, the United States has not detected any change in North Korea’s military posture reflecting an increased threat, the top U.S. military officer said on Tuesday.
The assessment by Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, about Pyongyang’s military stance was in contrast to a South Korean lawmaker who said Pyongyang had boosted defenses on its east coast.
“While the political space is clearly very charged right now, we haven’t seen a change in the posture of North Korean forces, and we watch that very closely,” Dunford told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his reappointment to his post.
In terms of a sense of urgency, “North Korea certainly poses the greatest threat today,” Dunford testified.
A U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity said satellite imagery had detected a small number of North Korean military aircraft moving to the North’s east coast. However the official said the activity did not change their assessment of Pyongyang’s military posture.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Monday accused Trump of declaring war on the North and threatened that Pyongyang would shoot down U.S. warplanes flying near the Korean Peninsula after American bombers flew close to it last Saturday. Ri was reacting to Trump’s Twitter comments that Kim and Ri “won’t be around much longer” if they acted on their threats toward the United States.
North Korea has been working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, which Trump has said he will never allow….