Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress on Wednesday there's “reason for optimism” on the Trump administration’s efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula after the release of three American prisoners from North Korea.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on the Pentagon’s fiscal 2019 budget request, Mattis said the administration’s effort has always been diplomacy first, supported by military might.
“Certainly their capability concerns us on the military side. However, we see there is some reason for optimism,” Mattis said. “We said all along this was a diplomatically led effort, backed up by military force.”
Just ahead of the hearing, President Donald Trump announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had secured the release of three Americans held in North Korea and was bringing them back home on his plane. The move comes ahead of an anticipated summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“For right now, Secretary Pompeo is airborne bringing home the three released American citizens as we speak,” Mattis told the panel. “And I think there is reason for some optimism that these talks could be fruitful.”
The effort to pave the way for denuclearization talks with North Korea came on the heels of Trump’s announcement Tuesday that the U.S. was withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran and reimposing sanctions on the nation. On Wednesday, Mattis defended the administration’s decision to spurn the agreement.
“We have walked away from the [Iran deal] because we found it was inadequate for the long-term effort,” Mattis said.
The decision to withdraw, he added, was “bona fide.”
“It was not a hasty decision. … The administration’s been in place for over a year. And for over a year, we have attempted to work with allies to address the shortcomings on it,” he said. “So, I think we now have the opportunity to move forward to address those shortcomings and make it more compelling.”
In addition to nuclear issues, Mattis vowed the U.S. would work with allies to address Iran’s “malign” activities, including its support for terrorism, ballistic missile development, cyber activities and threats to international commerce.