Between old foe and aggressive ally, no honeymoon for South Korea's Moon

"We're not closer to war than a week ago but we are closer to war than we were a decade ago", McMaster said on ABC News' "This Week", adding that the Trump administration is prepared to deal militarily with North Korea if necessary.

Dunford made the comments to his counterparts in South Korea as part of a trip to South Korea, Japan and China.

President Moon Jae-in (right) shakes hands with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, before their meeting at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Monday.

In the meetings with South Korean president Moon Jae-in and other top officials Monday, Dunford "conveyed America's readiness to use the full range of military capabilities to defend our allies and the USA homeland", said US military spokesman Capt. Darryn James.

The U.S. has 6 B-1 Lancer bombers on a rotation through Andersen Air Force Base, where they would likely play a large role in any potential conflict with North Korea. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened massive retaliation if North Korea attacks U.S. forces or territory.

"What matters is that if a second conflict (on the peninsula) erupts, that can not help but lead to a nuclear war", the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a commentary.

"The military dimension today is directly in support of that diplomatic and economic effort", Gen. Dunford told reporters in Seoul.

"I am confident the United States too will react calmly and responsibly to the ongoing situation under the same basic stance as ours", he said. The top priority is the national interest of the Republic of Korea.

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"No one is more reluctant to go to war than those of us who represent the men and women who actually have to pay that sacrifice", the chairman said.

Tension in the region has risen since North Korea carried out two nuclear bomb tests past year and two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July, tests it often conducts to coincide with important national dates.

Also on Monday, China's commerce ministry issued an order banning a slew of imports from North Korea, in line with additional United Nations sanctions that were announced earlier this month.

Beijing is North Korea's biggest economic partner and source of aid.

In a fresh warning, Pyongyang's official media on Monday lashed out at the allies for the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian annual military exercise, saying an "unwanted trivial, accidental spark" could lead to a full-blown nuclear war.

"There must be no more war on the Korean peninsula. Even if peace and negotiations require pain and patience, we must do so".

Any confrontation between the two will inevitably draw in South Korea, which faces thousands of North Korean troops and artillery guns across the heavily militarized border.

Trump will issue an order later on Monday to determine whether to investigate Chinese trade practices that force USA firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property, senior administration officials said on Saturday. His comments echo those of White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo, who took to the Sunday talk shows in an effort to cool the harsh rhetoric coming from President Trump.

  • Megan Austin