After a top Pentagon official said the only way to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons program would be through a ground invasion, a senior Senate Democrat urged the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to “stay the course” and achieve a diplomatic solution to the crisis, in spite of President Donald Trump’s unpredictable behaviour and threats of military action.
“The worst alternative is a war which could become nuclear,” Dianne Feinstein said on Sunday.
Trump himself threw a characteristic wildcard into the mix, saying he would “certainly be open” to meeting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
Rear Adm Michael J Dumont of the joint staff offered his blunt assessment of US options in response to a letter from two congressional Democrats who asked about casualty assessments in any conflict with North Korea.
The US is evaluating Pyongyang’s ability to target heavily populated areas of South Korea with artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles, Dumont said, adding that Seoul, the South’s capital with a population of 25 million, is just 35 miles from the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Casualties would differ depending on advance warning and the ability of US and South Korea forces to counter such attacks, Dumont said, also mentioning the possibility that chemical and biological weapons might be used by the North.
“It is the most bleak assessment,” Feinstein, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, told CNN’s State of the Union. “I’ve spent a lot of time reading the intelligence. I’ve had an opportunity to discuss the situation with [Defense] Secretary [James] Mattis. I believe that an outbreak of war would kill hundreds of thousands of people.”