The United States will go to war with North Korea if it fires missiles at Guam, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday, issuing another strong warning to the nuclear armed regime.
Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, has emerged as a major security issue following North Korea's threats to shoot ballistic missiles into nearby waters.
That threat came last week, escalating already high tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
"We'll know if it's going towards Guam within moments," Mattis said of the missiles, on an unannounced visit to the Pentagon's press room. "I think if they fire at the United States, it could escalate into war very quickly. Yes, that's called war, if they shoot at us."
He made clear that if the North shoots at the U.S., then it's "game on."
"We'll take it out," Mattis said.
If the missiles land in waters short of Guam, the decision will be left to President Donald Trump, he added. Trump, in turn, would consult with America's allies.
In unusually strong rhetoric last week, Trump said the North would experience "fire and fury" if it continued to threaten the United States. He later added that the U.S. military is "locked and loaded" to respond to its provocations.
Mattis initially declined to comment on how the U.S. would react to a North Korean missile attack, saying the president had made it clear.
Guam, he said, is well protected. The island is home to some 7,000 American military personnel and some strategic assets including bombers and a THAAD missile defense battery.
Last week, the secretary warned the North to "cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people."
But he has also emphasized the need to diplomatically resolve the standoff with the recalcitrant state.
In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration will aim to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula through diplomatic and economic pressure.
"While diplomacy is our preferred means of changing North Korea's course of action, it is backed by military options," they said. (Yonhap)