WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense James Mattis and his South Korean counterpart have “discussed the option” of putting nuclear weapons in the country to deter North Korea, Mattis told reporters Monday.
"There are many military options, in concert with our allies," Mattis said during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon.
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Mattis said there are alternatives that would not put the South Korean capital of Seoul at grave risk, but declined to elaborate on what those options are.
North Korea on Friday fired another ballistic missile over Japanese airspace, just weeks after a similar weapons test that was condemned by the U.S. and its allies. The U.S. did not shoot down the missiles, Mattis said, because they did not pose a threat to Japan or U.S. territories.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted new sanctions on North Korea last week, a move Pyongyang said would only accelerate its weapons development.
The United States withdrew its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 as part of its worldwide nonproliferation efforts and to try to persuade North Korea to reduce its nuclear program.
It still defends South Korea and non-nuclear Japan under a so-called nuclear umbrella, the idea that it would launch a devastating counterattack against any would-be aggressor.
Hans Nichols is an NBC News correspondent.
Andrew Rafferty has been a political reporter for NBCNews.com since 2013. Rafferty writes and reports on politics for the web, and shoots and produces video for all NBC platforms.
Prior to joining NBCNews.com, Rafferty was a campaign reporter covering the 2012 presidential election. Rafferty was on the road for both the Republican primaries and general election, providing content for both the web and television.
Rafferty began at NBC News through a fellowship at "Meet The Press."
He is from Buffalo, N.Y., and attended John Carroll University in Ohio.