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Panetta: Trump should 'lower the volume of rhetoric' on North Korea

Panetta: Trump should 'lower the volume of rhetoric' on North Korea

President Trump should “lower the volume of rhetoric" on North Korea and instead focus on diplomatic and long-term efforts to bring the country to negotiations, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.

The exchange of rhetoric between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “increases the tension level” and raises the chance for “a miscalculation or a mistake that will ultimately escalate into a greater conflict,” Panetta told the audience at a Hudson Institute forum in Washington.

“My concern right now is that it would be far better to lower the volume of rhetoric and focus on developing both our strength and capacity in the region … trying to deal with sanctions that can really have an impact on North Korea,” Panetta said.

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Tensions between North Korea and the U.S. have risen since Trump took office in January and began making bold statements of retaliation in response to the isolated nation's missile and nuclear tests.

Trump in August said he would unleash "fire and fury" on Pyongyang if it continued to threaten the U.S. The comment prompted North Korea's military to announce that it is considering targeting the U.S. territory of Guam.

And the president last month, in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, threatened to "totally destroy North Korea" if it continued to threaten the U.S. and its allies.

North Korea has since pushed back, warning last week that the U.S. would face an “unimaginable” nuclear strike for conducting joint naval drills with South Korea.

On Monday, a North Korean state-run newspaper criticized Trump in an article, calling him a “lunatic” with “war fever.”

Panetta said there are military plans developed to try to confront North Korea, but “none of those are very good options.”

“The concern [is] that ultimately it could lead to not only to thousands of lives that are lost in South Korea but also could lead ultimately to a nuclear war,” he said.

Instead, the U.S. has to tighten the “noose of containment and deterrence” by increasing its military presence and strength in the region, developing an effective missile shield and working with China and allies to continue to toughen sanctions, Panetta said.

“This is not going to be easy … but I think we need to push as hard as we can on the policy of deterrence and containment ... recognizing that if something were to happen, we’d have to be prepared to obviously confront them,” he added.