WASHINGTON, Aug 2, (Agencies): A Republican senator said Tuesday that US President Donald Trump has told him he would go to war to destroy North Korea rather than allow it to develop a long-range nuclear-armed missile.
Influential lawmaker Lindsey Graham, a foreign policy hawk, told NBC’s Today Show: “There is a military option: To destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself.”
Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un boasted that his country could now strike any target in the United States after carrying out its latest intercontinental ballistic missile test.
World powers have been trying to stifle Pyongyang’s weapons program through United Nations-backed sanctions, but have failed to daunt the regime and Washington is growing frustrated.
Graham said that if diplomacy, and in particular pressure from the North’s neighbor China, fails to halt the program then the United States will have no choice but to take devastating military action.
“They’ve kicked the can down the road for 20 years. There will be a war with North Korea over the missile program if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM,” he said, describing his discussions with Trump.
“He’s told me that. I believe him. If I were China, I would believe him, too, and do something about it. You can stop North Korea, militarily or diplomatically.
“I prefer the diplomatic approach. But they will not be allowed to have a missile to hit America with a nuclear weapon on top.”
Meanwhile, the United States does not seek to topple the North Korean government and would like dialogue with Pyongyang at some point, but only on the understanding that it can never be a nuclear power, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters at the State Department days after Pyongyang tested its second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Tillerson reiterated that Washington sought to persuade North Korea to give up its missile and nuclear weapons programs through peaceful pressure. “We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel,” Tillerson said.
“We are not your enemy … but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them.”
However, “a condition of those talks is there is no future where North Korea holds nuclear weapons or the ability to deliver those nuclear weapons to anyone in the region, much less the (US) homeland,” he said.
North Korea has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States and US officials said the latest test had shown it may now be able to reach most of the country.
Tillerson repeated calls for North Korea’s neighbor and ally China, which has urged a resumption of talks with Pyongyang, to use its influence to create the conditions for “productive dialogue.”
He said other options were “not particularly attractive.”
President Donald Trump’s administration has said all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea, including military ones. However, given the potential for massive casualties from North Korean retaliation in allied South Korea and Japan and among US troops there, it has stressed the need for a diplomatic solution.
Earlier on Tuesday, a leading Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, said Trump had told him he was willing to go to war with North Korea “if they continued to try to hit America with an ICBM.”
“He’s told me that. I believe him. If I were China, I would believe him, too, and do something about it. You can stop North Korea, militarily or diplomatically,” he said on NBC’s “Today Show.”
“There is a military option: To destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself,” Graham said. “I prefer the diplomatic approach. But they will not be allowed to have a missile to hit America with a nuclear weapon on top.”
Asked about Graham’s remarks, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders reiterated that the administration was “keeping all options on the table.”
In related development, the US military conducted a test Wednesday of an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile, officials said, just days after North Korea conducted its own ICBM launch.
Tests at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California are typically scheduled weeks or even months in advance, but this one came at a time of soaring tensions with North Korea over its trial of an ICBM last week.
“While not a response to recent North Korean actions, the test demonstrates that the United States’ nuclear enterprise is safe, secure, effective and ready to be able to deter, detect and defend against attacks on the United States and its allies,” the Air Force Global Strike Command said.
The Minuteman III missile went up at 2:01 am (0902 GMT)local California time Wednesday the Air Force Global Strike Command said.
The ICBM arced into the night sky from Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California and traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
North Korea has alarmed the international community by the pace and progress of its missile development program, and in July leader Kim Jong-Un conducted two tests of an ICBM — the first time he had demonstrated ICBM capability.
The first of these trials, which Kim described as a gift to “American bastards,” showed the rocket had the potential range to hit Alaska. The second rocket test last week flew even longer, with some experts even suggesting that New York could be in range.
Decades after the Cold War, and frequently forgotten by a public preoccupied with the threat of terrorism, the United States still fields hundreds of Minuteman III ICBMs, dotted in silos across rural America.
Over the next 20 years, the US Air Force will switch out the entirety of its Minuteman III fleet with a new missile known currently known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).