Washington: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has warned that an attack by North Korea against the United States could quickly escalate into war, and said the military would try to shoot down any missile that threatened Guam.
North Korea last week said it was drawing up plans to test-fire four missiles that would fly toward Guam but splash into the sea before hitting the small US Pacific island territory, after President Donald Trump promised to meet ongoing threats from Pyongyang with "fire and fury."
"If they fire at the United States, it could escalate into war very quickly," Mattis told Pentagon reporters yesterday.
Mattis's comments came after he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said America has "no interest" in regime change in Pyongyang or the accelerated reunification of the two Koreas, and stressed the importance of a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
The defense chief said the Pentagon is able to tell "within moments" where North Korea's missiles are headed, and said the United States would try to shoot down anything that threatened America.
"We will defend the country from any attack at any time from any quarter," he said.
If North Korea fires missiles deemed to be a threat to Guam, "then it's game on, and we will try and do our best to make sure it does not hit the United States," Mattis said.
When asked if he would order the shoot-down of missiles headed toward Guam -- but which would fall short of actually hitting the island -- Mattis said he did not want to signal whether the United States would still try to stop them.
"If it falls short of Guam, then it becomes an issue that we take up however the president chooses," Mattis said.
"I need a certain amount of ambiguity on this because I am not going to tell them what I'll do in each case.