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Mattis: North Korea sanctions are working

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a discussion with others. (Jim Mattis/Flickr)
September 20, 2017

U.N. Security Council sanctions targeting North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests are working, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently said during an informal briefing with members of the press.

The secretary said the sanctions, which began in 2006, have shown North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that there’s a penalty to pay for ignoring international concerns and norms.

“We are putting the leader in North Korea in a position to be aware of — [with] the international community voting unanimously twice now in the United Nations Security Council — … the increasing diplomatic isolation that comes with the economic sanctions,” Mattis said.

Under Pressure

The secretary made a Sept. 15 trip to Mexico City to strengthen the bilateral defense relationship and participate in Mexican Independence Day activities, and to the reporters he said that Mexico had declared the North Korean ambassador a persona non grata.

On Sept.7, according to an official press release, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto issued an executive order instructing all government agencies to comply with new UNSC economic sanctions imposed on North Korea. The same day, the Mexican government gave North Korean Ambassador Kim Hyong Gil 72 hours to leave the country.

Spain, Peru and Kuwait, according to news reports, also have ordered North Korean ambassadors and envoys out of their countries.

“That’s an example of what is working,” Mattis said. “It’s a pressurization effort to raise the cost” to Pyongyang of continued testing of missiles and nuclear weapons.

Responding to Provocations

Since January, North Korea has tested five ballistic missiles and a nuclear weapon, and reporters asked Mattis why the United States doesn’t shoot the missiles down.

“Those missiles are not directly threatening any of us,” the secretary said.

Japan and U.S. missile defenses and radars are operating, he added, and North Korea is intentionally initiating provocations “that seem to press against the envelope for just how far can they push without going over some kind of a line in their minds that would make them vulnerable.”

So they aim for the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Mattis said, “where at least we hope no ships are around.”

The bottom line, he said, is that if the missiles were a threat to Guam or Japan, “that would elicit a different response from us.” Mattis noted that there are military options that would not put South Korea at grave risk, but declined to explain further.

“We will defend ourselves, our interests [and] our allies,” he said, “and we work together very transparently and openly with our allies.”

This is a Department of Defense press release.