Pentagon: only ground invasion can destroy North Korean nuclear program


from The Guardian:

After a top Pentagon official said the only way to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons program would be through a ground invasion, a senior Senate Democrat urged the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to “stay the course” and achieve a diplomatic solution to the crisis, in spite of President Donald Trump’s unpredictable behaviour and threats of military action.

“The worst alternative is a war which could become nuclear,” Dianne Feinstein said on Sunday.

Trump himself threw a characteristic wildcard into the mix, saying he would “certainly be open” to meeting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

Rear Adm Michael J Dumont of the joint staff offered his blunt assessment of US options in response to a letter from two congressional Democrats who asked about casualty assessments in any conflict with North Korea.

The US is evaluating Pyongyang’s ability to target heavily populated areas of South Korea with artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles, Dumont said, adding that Seoul, the South’s capital with a population of 25 million, is just 35 miles from the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

Casualties would differ depending on advance warning and the ability of US and South Korea forces to counter such attacks, Dumont said, also mentioning the possibility that chemical and biological weapons might be used by the North.

“It is the most bleak assessment,” Feinstein, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, told CNN’s State of the Union. “I’ve spent a lot of time reading the intelligence. I’ve had an opportunity to discuss the situation with [Defense] Secretary [James] Mattis. I believe that an outbreak of war would kill hundreds of thousands of people.”

Dumont’s views were made public as Trump began a visit to Asia in which North Korea and Kim Jong-un’s nuclear ambition loom large. “No one, no dictator, no regime … should underestimate American resolve,” he told a military audience at Yokota airbase near Tokyo on Sunday on the first leg of his five-country trip that will also take in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The president has repeatedly threatened North Korea, saying in his maiden speech at the United Nations in September he would “totally destroy” the country if necessary. He has also repeatedly undercut Tillerson in his efforts to pursue talks with the regime in Pyongyang.

Trump has also said before that he would be willing to meet Kim. In an interview with the Sinclair TV show Full Measure broadcast on Sunday morning, he said he was holding meetings with numerous Asian leaders and “would sit down with anybody.

“I don’t think it’s strength or weakness, I think sitting down with people is not a bad thing. So I would certainly be open to doing that but we’ll see where it goes, I think we’re far too early.”

Feinstein said she was “very pleased that Secretary Tillerson is with the president [in Asia]. I think if he will stay the course and use diplomacy the way diplomacy can be used, that it might be possible to work something out.”

Also speaking to CNN on Sunday another senior Democrat, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, said the US should “exhaust every possible diplomatic resolution”. She also said Trump’s approach to North Korea was akin to “poking a stick in the eye of a mad dog”.

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