James Mattis says North Korea’s Kim Jong-un threatening ‘catastrophe’

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Seoul: In a visit to the Demilitarised Zone that separates the two Koreas, US secretary of defence James Mattis on Friday accused North Korea of building a nuclear arsenal to “threaten others with catastrophe,” the Yonhap news agency reported.

Mattis pledged solidarity with US ally South Korea, saying that President Donald Trump’s administration wants to avoid war if possible and remains committed to forcing North Korea to disarm, according to Yonhap.

The defence secretary is in South Korea for talks with counterpart Song Young-moo on a trip that comes ahead of Trump’s planned visit to the country early next month. They are set to discuss the bilateral defence alliance, including a timetable for returning wartime operational control to Seoul from Washington.

Mattis’s visit to the Joint Security Area, where North and South Korean soldiers stand guard face-to-face, comes amid a brief halt in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile provocations. Its last belligerent act was the launch of an intermediate-range missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido on 15 September.

South Korea’s military said this week that no particular signs beyond ordinary activities have been spotted, though North Korea continues to seek the capability to strike the US with a nuclear weapon.

Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said 16 October that a nuclear war “may break out any moment” and that “the entire US mainland is within our firing range.” Another senior official told CNN this week that the world should take literally his country’s threat to test a nuclear weapon above ground.

Fishing boat

In a rare gesture ahead of Mattis’s visit, North Korea plans to return on Friday a South Korean fishing boat and crew captured last week. Pyongyang notified Seoul via a report from its official Korean Central News Agency as all inter-Korean communication lines have been cut off, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said at a briefing.

If returned, this would be the first repatriation by North Korea of South Korean citizens since 2010, Baik said. South Korea has returned North Koreans crossing maritime borders on seven occasions since President Moon Jae-in took power in May.

KCNA said the crew “deliberately intruded” into its waters, but will return them “from the humanitarian point of view.”

Separately, the US treasury department added seven more individuals and three entities connected with the North Korean regime to its sanctions list.

“We also are targeting North Korean financial facilitators who attempt to keep the regime afloat with foreign currency earned through forced labor operations,” treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.