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Graham warns of North Korean regime overplaying its hand

Senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill March 7, 2013.
Senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill March 7, 2013.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that if a military conflict breaks out with North Korea, “the North loses and the South wins with our help.”

Graham said, “I could see a major war happening if the North Koreans overplay their hand this time because the public in South Korea, the United States, and, I think, the whole region is fed up with this guy,” Graham said.

By “this guy,” Graham meant new North Korean leader Kim Jung Un who has been making bellicose threats against the United States in recent days.

Graham said “my biggest fear” is a conflict sparked by the North Korea regime and its misunderstanding of the new thinking in South Korea. The South Koreans, he said, are “not going to put up with this anymore. If there were a South Korean naval vessel sunk this year, any time soon, or shelling of a South Korean island by North Korea, I think the new president of South Korea would be compelled to act. I think the North Koreans are overplaying their hand.”

Graham praised the Obama administration’s handling of the increased tensions with North Korea. “I’m glad we’re not doing the ballistic missile test,” he said, referring to a decision by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to delay an intercontinental ballistic missile test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California because of the tensions with North Korea. “I’m glad we had the B-2s in the (Korean) theater where they could see them…”

The South Carolina Republican said the Chinese government fears a reunification of North and South Korea. “They don’t want a democratic Korea next to China, so they’re propping up this crazy (North Korean) regime – and they can determine the fate of North Korea better than anybody on the planet,” he said.

Graham also said that the governments of Japan and South Korea haven’t moved to develop their own nuclear weapons capability because “they trust us. As long as South Korea and Japan trust us to be in the fight, they won’t go down the nuclear road. It’s important that they always believe we have their back, it’s important that North Korea knows what happens if they engage anybody in the region associated with us – including with our own troops. They (the North Koreans) lose.” 

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Graham, who has just returned from a trip to the Middle East, also commented on the uprising in Syria against the Assad regime.

“The worst is yet to come on Syria if we don’t fix this soon,” he warned. He added that before the United States provides arms to the anti-Assad rebels, it should get a commitment from them to allow an international force to round up and destroy the chemical weapons that Assad’s regime has – “enough weapons to kill millions of people.”

Any new Syrian regime that replaces Bashar al-Assad must, he said, renounce owning chemical weapons.

But the South Carolina Republican warned that “radical elements” in the anti-Assad coalition “are growing by the day.” And it could be “a nightmare in the making” if Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal falls into the hands of radical Islamists in Syria.