Dunford: North Korean Threat Can Be Peacefully Resolved

BEIJING --

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believes that the diplomatic and economic pressure campaign aimed at North Korea is making progress and the odds are improving that the nuclear and ballistic missile issues can be solved peacefully, he said today.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People at the conclusion of his visit to Beijing. DoD photo by Jim Garamone
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets Chinese President Xi Jinping. Chairman Meets
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People at the conclusion of his visit to Beijing. DoD photo by Jim Garamone

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford spoke with reporters after meetings here and in Seoul, South Korea. He will travel next to Tokyo to speak with Japanese officials following his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

There are many hurdles to overcome, but South Korea, Japan, the United States and China all seem to have the same concern about a nuclear-armed North Korea, the chairman said. “I do believe there is unanimity in seeking a diplomatic and an economic solution to the current crisis in North Korea,” Dunford told reporters.

The end state, of course, is a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has developed atomic bombs and may be close to placing them upon intercontinental ballistic missiles that could target U.S. treaty allies South Korea and Japan as well as American targets in the Pacific, and, possibly, the homeland.

U.N. Resolution

Dunford said he believes the U.N. Security Council vote imposing sanctions on Chinese exports was a great first step. “We have a long way to go, but I am encouraged by the strong commitments of all to enforce those sanctions,” the chairman said. “The passage of the sanctions is step one, enforcement of those sanctions are what is most important.

The unanimous vote is aimed at stopping North Korean missile tests and included sanctions banning $1 billion in North Korean exports and capping the number of North Korean migrant workers. China, North Korea's only ally and biggest export market, announced it would begin implementing the ban almost immediately.

Around 90 percent of North Korea’s trade is with China, and Chinese officials appear serious about enforcing the U.N. action, U.S. officials said. “And the reports I’ve heard since I’ve been in Beijing have been positive in terms of the Chinese commitment to enforce those sanctions,” Dunford noted.

“I don’t think any of us believe that economic and diplomatic pressure alone … or this campaign will result in denuclearization,” the chairman said. “But what Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson has articulated is that the diplomatic and economic pressure will cease the testing, cease the development of nuclear programs and set, perhaps, the political conditions for moving forward in the broader issues that effect North and South Korea.” 

A United Front

The United States, South Korea and Japan are approaching the issue as an alliance. The chairman’s first stop before Beijing was in Seoul and his last stop will be in Tokyo. He said he wants to ensure transparency with allies and friends in the region. “I think we’ve had a very transparent exchange with our Chinese interlocutors about North Korea as well,” Dunford said.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with his team through the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with his team through the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on the way to a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The chairman met with Chinese leaders for three days to build military-to-military relations. DoD photo by Jim Garamone
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with his team through the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Dunford Walks
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with his team through the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on the way to a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The chairman met with Chinese leaders for three days to build military-to-military relations. DoD photo by Jim Garamone

The chairman said he is leaving Beijing feeling encouraged. “I began to be encouraged when the United Nations Security Council passed the sanctions resolution,” he said. “That is as forceful a declaration of the international community’s perspective on this issue as we’ve seen.”

Dunford said the response from world capitals has also given him encouragement that there is the will to enforce sanctions.

“I do believe right now -- there’s a long way to go -- but we are on a path that there is a possibility, and I hope a probability, that we can resolve this peacefully,” he said. “I certainly believe there is a chance.”

The diplomatic and economic pressure is designed to set the political conditions for very difficult complicated long-term issues to be addressed, the chairman said.

There is still a threat from North Korea, Dunford said. Kim Jong Un having ballistic missiles melded with nuclear warheads would be a significant threat to the region and the United States. “That is unacceptable, and that is what President [Donald J.] Trump has said,” the chairman said. “We’re all working toward a peaceful solution. On all counts, that is the best way to approach this. But we [in DoD] get paid to develop military options, and we’ve been in discussion with our president about military options. If the president comes to us with a decision to use military force, we will provide him options.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)