Mattis: North Korea situation 'sobering'

Mattis: North Korea situation 'sobering'
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Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan House panel advances 8B defense bill MORE on Tuesday called the current tensions with North Korea “sobering,” but said a meeting of nations in Vancouver, Canada, would continue to press for a diplomatic solution to denuclearize the nation.

“The situation we face, I would call it sobering,” Mattis told reporters en route to Vancouver for the United Nations Command Sending States, an event co-hosted by Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.

“But this meeting is designed to still make progress diplomatically such as you've seen with three unanimous [U.N.] Security Counsel resolutions over these last months," he said.

Mattis noted, however, that diplomats “are backed up by our military options.”

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“Obviously the whole point is to reinforce the diplomatic option to show that there are military options should there be a DPRK attack,” he said, referring to North Korea's official name. 

North Korea launched more than a dozen ballistic missile tests in 2017, with one hydrogen bomb test in September, but no activity has happened in 2018 so far.

Mattis said international efforts appear to be having some effect on North Korea, pointing to recent talks between the North and South.

It was announced after the talks that Pyongyang would send a 140-member orchestra to the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

“I think it is a positive indicator. We just don't know where or how far it goes. Does it have traction? Will it go a long ways or will it go no further than this? I don't know,” Mattis said.

Mattis also addressed the emergency alert warning mistakenly sent to Hawaii residents on Saturday about an incoming ballistic missile. The incident took 38 minutes to correct, sending residents scrambling.

The Defense secretary said state officials are taking “full ownership of the problem” and will “figure out what went wrong and they'll put procedures in place.”