Tensions continue to mount between the United States and North Korea, after US Defense Secretary James Mattis’s week-long visit to Asia and ahead of Trump’s 12-day visit later this week. Mattis emphasized a diplomatic resolution to the standoff between the two countries, but warned that the US would not accept a nuclear North Korea. Congressional Democrats are pushing legislation that would prevent President Trump from launching a preemptive strike against North Korea. We speak with Christine Ahn, founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to North Korea, where tensions continue to mount with the United States. During a week-long visit to Asia, Defense Secretary James Mattis emphasized a diplomatic resolution to the standoff between the two countries, but warned that the US would not accept a nuclear North Korea. This is Mattis speaking Saturday during a meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Song Young-moo, in Seoul.
DEFENSE SECRETARY JAMES MATTIS: Make no mistake: Any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated. Any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military response, effective and overwhelming. … I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Mattis arrived in South Korea on Friday for a two-day trip to the country, ahead of a visit later this week to the region by Donald Trump. Trump is slated to visit China, Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea over a 12-day visit. White House officials are divided over whether Trump should visit the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South during the trip, with concerns that a visit could further exacerbate the threat of nuclear war.
AMY GOODMAN: Tensions between North Korea and the United States have been building after a series of nuclear and missile tests by Pyongyang and intense verbal exchanges between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump has threatened to destroy all of North Korea, a nation of 25 million people. Trump tweeted last month, “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!” Trump’s tweet came as North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said Trump was on a “suicide mission.” Congressional Democrats are pushing legislation that would prevent President Trump from launching a preemptive strike against North Korea.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Christine Ahn, founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War. She’s speaking to us from Hawaii.
Christine, thanks for joining us once again on Democracy Now! Can you talk about the conclusion of this visit by Mattis and the escalation, once again, of the US-North Korea tensions and what we can expect as President Trump goes to the region in a few days?
CHRISTINE AHN: Good morning, Amy.
It seems that Mattis’ statement, especially at the DMZ, that the US does not want to go to war with North Korea, was kind of a preemptive statement before — ahead of Trump’s visit to Asia, particularly to South Korea, where more South Koreans fear Donald Trump than they do Kim Jong-un. And, in fact, massive protests are being planned. There was the anniversary of the candlelight revolution this past weekend, and over 220 civil society organizations declared that they would hold massive protests from November 4th through the 7th all throughout the country, declaring no war, no more military exercises, stop the brinksmanship, which obviously threatens the majority of people in South Korea and also many who still have family in North Korea. So, I think that, you know, it was kind of a proactive step to assuage the South Korean people, because, obviously, Trump will come in and make some provocative statements. And I think that was part of the step to do that.
What we don’t often hear in the media, though, is that the US has sent three nuclear aircraft carriers to be docked on the Korean Peninsula. They have been conducting very provocative joint war exercises with South Korea, included Navy SEALs that took out Osama bin Laden. They do include the decapitation strikes. And so, you know, it’s one thing to say, “We don’t want war with North Korea,” and another to actually be laying the grounds for that. And it’s not just the provocative military actions that are underway, but the threats. I mean, we continue to hear threats from throughout the Trump Cabinet. Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, stated at a Defense Forum Foundation this past week that assassination plots were underway for Kim Jong-un. H.R. McMaster has said, you know, acceptance and deterrence is not an option. And Tillerson has said that, you know, we’re going to talk until the first bomb drops. So, you know, this is not really inviting North Korea to engage in dialogue, which is urgently what is needed.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, could you say a little, Christine, about how North Korea responded? You just mentioned that South Korea and the US held military exercises recently. What was North Korea’s response to those exercises? And is there reason to believe that North Korea is still open to negotiations? Because that’s not the sense that we get here in the media.
CHRISTINE AHN: Absolutely. Well, I think it’s important to note that we haven’t seen any missile tests or nuclear tests in almost 38 days from the North Korean side. I don’t think that that means that they’re not going to continue. They have made it very clear that they are on a path to achieving a nuclear — you know, an ICBM that could attach a nuclear warhead, that could strike the United States. And, you know, many estimates is that they’re months away from doing that.
But, you know, I don’t know if you recall, after Trump’s, you know, “totally destroy North Korea” speech at the U.N., the North Korean foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, said that, you know — and I guess what had happened was, over that weekend, the US flew F-15 fighter jets across the northern limit line on the maritime border. That’s in complete violation of, you know, an agreement that that northern line would be the line that would not be crossed to prevent any kind of skirmishes. And so, in response to that, North Korea has said, “We will strike and take down US planes, even if they are not within our orbit or within our, you know, geographic area.” And so, you know, North Korea has made clear that they are going to counterretaliate.
And so, given that there are no channels, really, official channels — there are some small private channels that are being held, you know, 1.5 talks between former US officials with the North Korean government. There really aren’t talks underway. And I think that’s what’s the dangerous situation that we’re in, is, you know, when the next North Korean test is conducted, will the US be ready to strike it? And would that then be the beginning of a very dangerous escalation?
In fact, you know, the Congressional Research Service just issued a report on Friday. They said that within the first few days, 330,000 people would be killed instantly. And that’s just using conventional weapons. And once you include nuclear weapons, you know, they estimate 25 million people. I mean, how do you estimate the number of people, especially in a region where Japan, South Korea, China, Russia, and you have North Korea, obviously, that possesses up to 60 nuclear weapons?
AMY GOODMAN: Christine —
CHRISTINE AHN: So — yes?
AMY GOODMAN: Christine, we just have 20 seconds, but what about this debate of whether President Trump should visit the Demilitarized Zone? The significance of this?
CHRISTINE AHN: Well, I think that he is not planning to visit there. I think because, you know, his administration is worried that he’s going to make some provocative statements that could really trigger the North Koreans. And so, right now I think what is really important is that there is grassroots mobilization across the country in the United States, massive protests being planned for November 11th, for Armistice Day, by Veterans for Peace. And —
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, Christine Ahn, but we’ll do Part 2 and post it online at democracynow.org.