Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Friday visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that has separated North and South Korea since 1953.
Mattis stood with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo in a show of unity against the country led by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who is on a mission to fully develop a nuclear missile arsenal.
Mattis reiterated that the United States is depending on diplomacy and sanctions to deter North Korea from its nuclear ambitions.
“North Korean provocations continue to threaten regional and world peace, and despite the unanimous condemnation by the United Nations Security Council they still proceed,” Mattis said. “As U.S. Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson has made clear, our goal is not war, but rather the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Mattis spoke at the “truce village” of Panmunjom and said that South Korea, while it contains “peace-loving members of free society,” is threatened by Kim Jong Un and his regime, which “shackles its people, denying their freedom, their welfare and human dignity.”
Song called on North Korea to “stop reckless provocations and come the path of peace and dialogue.”
Watch Mattis’ remarks here:
Trump is slated to visit Japan, South Korea, China Vietnam and the Philippines in November.
Panmunjom is a truce village located inside the DMZ where North Korea soldiers are armed and within throwing distance – literally.
Former President Barack Obama visited the hilltop border post OP in 2012 and observed North Korea with binoculars, and in 2010, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates had toured Panmunjom.
Tensions run high in the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ, where U.S. troops are sandwiched between North and South Korea. The rift between the countries has been ongoing since 1950 – which makes it the longest war on paper since World War II.
Accounts from those who have been to the DMZ report that it feels like a “Cold War theme park.”
There is a fake village on the North Korean side of the zone, where propaganda is blasted through loudspeakers.
On the South Korean side, tourists cram onto an observation deck to see it all.
While that feeling might be very surreal, the reality is that there are 10,000 artillery pieces that observes can’t see on the North Korean side, aimed at Seoul, the South Korean capital that is only 30 miles away from the DMZ. War planners estimate that 500,000 people could be killed in a second Korean War.
At Osan Air Base, very close to Seoul, Korean airmen and Americans monitor all activity north of the DMZ.
Guard Post 4, a citadel near the DMZ, is where U.S. troops are stationed, under General Vincent Brooks, the current commander of the United States Forces Korea, United Nations Command and ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command.
Brooks has made it overwhelmingly clear that the U.S. is ready at a second’s notice to aggressively and overwhelmingly respond to any serious North Korean action.
North Korea has said it has at least 10 nuclear weapons, and that its intercontinental missiles could carry a ballistic missile, according to leader Kim Jong Un; the country has already tested multiple missiles this year.
President Donald Trump is expected to visit Asia next month. While it was initially reported that he might visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea, Trump is reportedly no longer going to the DMZ. While Trump’s visit would not be unprecedented, it would come during a time when the U.S.’ relationship with North Korea is being put through a stress test laden with threats and aggressive rhetoric back and forth.
A top North Korean official said this week that what North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho says should be taken “literally” – including his recent threat to of nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean.
In October, North Korea again threatened to bomb the U.S. territory of Guam in the Pacific, this in light of what Pyongyang refers to as “reckless moves” by the U.S.
The last threat to Guam came in August on the heels of President Donald Trump saying North Korea would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continues to threaten the U.S.
North Korea had also responded to the latest presence of American and allied aircraft over the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. in early October sent bombers over both coasts of South Korea to conduct mock military drills.
The show of force during tense times came despite North Korea threatening to shoot down U.S. bombers if it has to, after the country led by dictator Kim Jong Un claimed the U.S. declared war when President Trump tweeted that North Korea “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps threatening the United States.
The United States and South Korea have most recently performed joint naval exercises, and such events especially enrage North Korea, which views them as rehearsals for war and invasions of the country.
It is no secret that emotions run high on both the U.S. and North Korean sides of this situation. President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un have exchanged fierce comments back and forth for several weeks now.
The U.S. had sent bombers in late September – the aircraft flew the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. bomber or fighter aircraft has been in the 21st Century. The U.S. also sent bombers in late August in a show of force.
The President also recently shut down Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statements that the U.S. has an open line of communication with Pyongyang, and would hope to solve the conflict diplomatically. Trump alluded to the fact that his Administration and, most likely, the U.S. Military would be taking care of the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
The Rhetoric Continues
These are a few of the exchanges between the U.S. and North Korea in 2017, when tensions have hit an all-time high while North Korea tries to pursue its nuclear ambitions, and the U.S. simultaneously tries to reign in Kim Jong Un.
- North Korea has claimed that President Trump “declared war” on the country after he tweeted that North Korea “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps threatening the United States. The White House issued a statement on Sept. 25 saying it had not declared war.
- On Sept. 25, North Korea’s foreign minister said Trump “declared war,” and that North Korea would shoot down U.S. bombers if it has to.
- On Sept. 23, the U.S. military sent Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers and F-15C Eagle fighter jets to fly over waters east of North Korea in a show-of-force against the country.
- The North Korean Foreign Minister had threatened to drop a Hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb, over the Pacific Ocean in response to President Donald Trump’s speech at the United Nations in September, telling reporters on Sept. 22. it could mean “the strongest Hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean.”
- North Korea threatened to test an H-bomb after a slew of accusations from North Korean dictator Jim Kong Un, in response to President Trump’s intense U.N. General Assembly speech on Sept. 19, during which the President said “Rocket Man” Kim Jong Un is on a “suicide mission” and that the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if need be.
- On Sept. 21 – the same day that Trump signed new sanctions against North Korea – Kim Jong Un threatened President Trump that he would “pay dearly” for his threat to destroy North Korea if the U.S. had to defend itself States or its allies, and he also called Trump a “dotard.”
- In a rare appearance on camera on Sept. 21, Kim spoke directly and said that Trump was “unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country.” Kim also said that Trump is “a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire,” and that his U.N. speech showed “mentally deranged behavior.”
- On Sept. 20, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho had said the President’s speech and threats were “the sound of a dog barking.”
Sanctions against North Korea aim to impact the flow of cash to that country and cut off trade partners, as well.
The sanctions could also have contributed to the intensity of Kim Jon Un’s recent statements, as sanctions further and further alienate North Korea.
The sanctions against North Korea banned about 90 percent of North Korea’s exports, fully banning the country’s textile exports and reducing its oil and petroleum exports. The sanctions also banned the country’s overseas laborers, which provided nearly $500 million in revenue; and cut off all foreign investment with North Korea, its assets being frozen.
They were passed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council – with both China and Russia voting in favor – following North Korea’s sixth ever successful nuclear missile launch and claims that the country now has a Hydrogen bomb it can place on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
North Korea recently launched yet another missile, on Sept. 14, this one an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean.
The North Korean launch came hours after North Korea threatened to blow the United States to “ashes and darkness” and has said it will “sink” the country of Japan, following a United Nations resolution that banned 90 percent of its exports. North Korea had promised the U.S. would “suffer the greatest pain it ever experienced in history” over the sanctions.
The United Nations in August also unanimously approved sanctions against North Korea in response to Kim Jong Un’s two successful intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in July.
Then, North Korea threatened “thousands-fold” revenge on the United States following those sanctions, which cut North Korea’s export revenue by $1 billion, or about a third. The sanctions banned North Korea from exporting coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood.
North Korea’s sixth nuclear missile test caused a 6.3 earthquake and was roughly five times as large as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan. The test came hours after North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un claimed that it now had an H-bomb to put onto its long-range ICBMs.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has said that North Korea is “begging for war,” and that it’s time for the international community to impose the strongest possible sanctions against North Korea.
North Korea has come out slinging harsh words following U.N. Security Council sanctions that ban nearly all of its exports, saying this week that the U.S. faces “final ruin” it it goes to war with Kim Jong Un.