The U.S.’s top general declined to comment on South Korean leader Moon Jae-in’s assertion that he needed to sign off on a war against North Korea, saying President Donald Trump had the final say on a unilateral military strike.
“Any military action taken on the Korean peninsula would be in consultation with our allies,” General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Beijing on Thursday. Asked about potential unilateral U.S. action, he said “that’s purely speculative and a decision to do that would be by the president. We certainly haven’t had a conversation about that to date.”
Earlier Thursday, Moon sought to ease concerns in South Korea over a potential war, saying Trump had agreed to first seek approval.
“Military action on the Korean peninsula can only be decided by the Republic of Korea,” Moon told reporters in Seoul, referring to his country’s formal name. “The U.S. and President Trump promised no matter what options they use, they will sufficiently consult with South Korea and get consent. This is a firm agreement between South Korea and the U.S. People can be assured and trust that there will be no war.”
The comments come as the crisis on the peninsula appears to be cooling. Trump said Wednesday that North Korea made a “very wise” decision after Kim Jong Un said he would wait to carry out a threatened missile strike near Guam. Steve Bannon, the White House’s chief strategist, told The American Prospect that there was no military solution to Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.
Moon’s comments reflect his own interpretation of U.S. policy, according to Kim Keun-sik, an adviser to South Korea’s foreign ministry and teacher of foreign affairs at Kyungnam University.
“As tensions run high between the U.S. and North Korea, Moon has a good reason to tone them down amid fear of a war,” Kim said.
Marking 100 days in office with his first press conference as president, Moon said that Kim’s regime is approaching South Korea’s “red line.”
“If North Korea completes development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and weaponizes it with nuclear warheads, I will consider that a red line,” Moon said. “North Korea is nearing the red line,” he said without elaborating on the consequences of crossing it.
In a meeting with Moon on Monday, Dunford reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to protect South Korea. On Thursday, the general said that while war would be “absolutely horrific,” it would be “unimaginable” to allow Kim to develop nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles that could threaten the U.S.
Moon said he would be ready for dialogue once the isolated nation stops its provocations, adding that there was no rush.
“Dialogue between South and North Korea should be resumed, but we don’t need to hurry up on that,” he said. “Dialogue should not be aimed at dialogue itself. Conditions should be prepared for talks. At least North Korea must stop further provocations before it can be ready for dialogue.”
Earlier this month, Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it continues to advance his nuclear program. This prompted Kim to announce a plan to test fire four intermediate-range missiles into waters near Guam — a U.S. territory in the Pacific that is home to American military bases.
Moon has long wished to ease tensions on the peninsula through negotiations, and last month called for talks with North Korea. Pyongyang’s recent intercontinental missile launches have prompted him to take a harder stance on the isolated regime.
— With assistance by Kanga Kong, Jiyeun Lee, Peter Martin, Shinhye Kang, and Seyoon Kim