The top U.S. military officer said Thursday a military solution to the North Korean missile threat would be "horrific" but allowing Pyongyang to develop the capability to launch a nuclear attack on the United States is "unimaginable."
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, told reporters in Beijing that President Donald Trump directly has "told us to develop credible viable military options and that's exactly what we're doing."
Dunford was responding to questions about Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon's comments in an interview published Wednesday.
Bannon was quoted as saying there's no military solution to the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear ambitions, despite the president's recent pledge to answer further aggression with "fire and fury."
"There's no military solution (to North Korea's nuclear threats), forget it," Bannon said in the interview. "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here, they got us."
In Beijing, Dunford said it's "absolutely horrific if there would be a military solution to this problem, there's no question about it."
But, he added, "what's unimaginable is allowing KJU (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) to develop ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead that can threaten the United States and continue to threaten the region," he said.
Dunford has been in Asia this week, visiting South Korea, Japan and China. In China, he has met with his Chinese counterpart Fang Fenghui, chief of the People's Liberation Army's joint staff department. On Thursday he also met with Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the ruling Communist Party's Central Military Commission, and Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat.
In Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he would consider sending a special envoy to North Korea for talks if the North stops its missile and nuclear tests, in an effort to jumpstart diplomacy.
He also declared, amid fears in South Korea that threats from Trump to unleash "fire and fury" on Pyongyang could lead to real fighting, that there would be no second war on the Korean Peninsula.
"The people worked together to rebuild the country from the Korean War, and we cannot lose everything again because of a war," Moon said in a nationally televised news conference. "I can confidently say there will not be a war again on the Korean Peninsula."
Moon's comments follow a spike in animosity generated by North Korea's warning that it might send missiles into waters near the U.S. territory of Guam, and by Trump's warlike language. Both Koreas and the United States have signaled in recent days, however, a willingness to avert a deepening crisis, with each suggesting a path toward negotiations.
Trump tweeted early Wednesday that Kim had "made a very wise and well-reasoned decision," amid indications North Korea doesn't immediately plan to fire multiple missiles toward Guam.
"The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!" Trump wrote.
Next week's start of annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises that enrage the North each year could make diplomacy even more difficult.