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Mattis says U.S. still aiming for diplomacy with North Korea despite Trump's tweets to the contrary

U.S. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis. (Cliff Owen / Associated Press)
U.S. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis. (Cliff Owen / Associated Press)

Hours after President Trump tweeted that “talking is not the answer” in regards to the increasingly tense situation with North Korea, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis emphasized diplomacy as the path forward.

"We're never out of diplomatic solutions,” he told reporters Wednesday while greeting South Korea's defense minister, Song Young-moo, at the Pentagon

“We continue to work together, and the minister and I share responsibility to provide for the protection of our nation, our populations and our interests, which is what we are here to discuss today,” he said.

Trump had taken to Twitter less than three hours earlier to respond to North Korea’s latest missile test, which flew over northern Japan on Monday, and to subsequent threats from the isolated nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

“The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

The statement raised questions about what the president meant, if diplomacy was not the way forward. Trump’s Cabinet members, including Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have repeatedly advocated for dialogue to ease tensions with the defiant communist country.

North Korean state media quoted Kim saying that Monday’s test of a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile was "the first step of the military operation" to target Guam, a U.S. territory that’s home to U.S. Navy and Air Force bases.

North Korea has fired 21 missiles during 14 tests since February, including three on Saturday, with many landing in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea.

Last month, North Korea successfully test launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles — weapons in theory capable of striking the U.S. mainland, including California.

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