Mattis warns of ‘massive military response’ to North Korea nuclear threat

WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis vowed “a massive military response” to any threat from North Korea against the United States or its allies in a statement outside the White House after a meeting with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and top national security advisers Sunday.

Mattis said Trump wanted to be briefed on each of the “many military options” for dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat.

“Our commitment among the allies are ironclad,” Mattis said. “Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.”

Mattis called on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to “take heed” of the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous position against North Korea’s nuclear program and again stressed the U.S. military’s position.

“We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, but as I said, we have many options to do so,” Mattis said.

Mattis’ remarks came after North Korea claimed it tested a hydrogen bomb on Sunday in what is its most powerful nuclear test to date.

Trump warned earlier Sunday that the United States was considering stopping trade with any nation doing business with North Korea as a way of dealing with the nuclear threat from Pyongyang.

If carried out, that option could mean a halt to U.S. trade with China, which has supported economic sanctions on North Korea but remains the key economic partner for the rogue nation.

Total trade between the U.S. and China topped nearly $650 billion last year, including exports of about $170 billion and imports of about $480 billion, the vast majority in goods, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

That makes China the United States’ largest trading partner in goods.

Sunday morning, Trump condemned North Korea’s claimed nuclear test in a series of tweets, calling Pyongyang’s words and actions “hostile and dangerous” and saying “talk of appeasement will not work.”

“North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States,” Trump wrote, adding Pyongyang “has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success.”

“South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” the president wrote.

Later Sunday morning, Trump again teased the possibility that the U.S. would attack North Korea.

As he left church, Trump was asked, “Will you attack North Korea?”

Trump answered, “We’ll see.”

Hours before Mattis’ statement outside the White House, Trump tweeted that he would meet with administration officials to discuss North Korea.

He said the meeting would include the defense secretary, White House chief of staff John Kelly and other military leaders.

A National Security Council official said national security adviser H.R. McMaster also would attend the meeting, and Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was seen entering the White House.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert tweeted Sunday morning that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was also scheduled to attend the White House’s North Korea meeting, was making calls to his counterparts, including South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley joined her counterparts from Japan, France, the United Kingdom and South Korea in requesting an emergency UN Security Council meeting on North Korea on Monday morning.

The request came after U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also condemned the test, calling it “profoundly destabilizing for regional security.