SEOUL – US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said on Friday during a visit to the border separating the two Koreas that Washington’s goal is not waging war with North Korea, but rather initiating a process to achieve a complete de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Mattis made the remarks on the first day of his trip to South Korea, during his visit to a border guard post and the Joint Security Area (JSA), which is part of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that has divided the two Koreas since the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953.
“As Secretary of State Tillerson has made clear, our goal is not war, but rather the complete, verifiable, and irreversible de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the Pentagon chief told the media a short distance away from the security post on the border.
Mattis, accompanied by his South Korean counterpart Song Young-moo, demanded that Pyongyang halts its threats against other countries, according to statements reported by local news agency Yonhap.
The two-day trip includes security meetings between Washington and Seoul, and is part of an Asian tour that also includes visits to the Philippines and Thailand.
Mattis and Song wore civilian clothes at the DMZ, instead of wearing their military uniforms, as Seoul had proposed, in an apparent gesture to send a message of conciliation to Pyongyang.
Mattis said that the border made glaring differences between the two Koreas evident and said that while the North was an oppressive regime against its citizens, the South had a democracy and a thriving economy.
The DMZ is a strip of land four kilometers (2.5 miles) wide that is riddled with mines separating the two countries – technically at war for the last 65 years – and includes the JSA in Panmunjom, where Northern and Southern security forces stand face-to-face.
After his visit to the demilitarized zone, the US defense secretary met South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
According to the president’s office, Moon highlighted the importance of the visit to the DMZ in order to personally see the confrontation between the two countries and said that the trip has the practical effect of being a deterrent to North Korean provocations.
The meeting served as a preparation for the upcoming summit between Moon and US President Donald Trump, to be held on Nov. 7 in Seoul, in which the leaders are expected to discuss the North Korean crisis.
Repeated weapon tests by North Korea – including a nuclear test on Sept. 3 – as well as strong war rhetoric from the Trump administration had escalated tensions to unprecedented levels since the Korean War of the ’50s.
On Saturday, Mattis and Song will preside in Seoul over the annual defense talks, where the matter of rotational deployment – involving strategic US weapons in South Korea, such as submarines and carriers – is expected to be discussed.