SEOUL, South Korea, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- A group of U.S. military leaders on Tuesday stressed the importance of getting a credible military option ready to support diplomacy in efforts to resolve the North Korea issue.
Speaking at a rare joint press conference in South Korea, they agreed that diplomacy is a priority but it's a tall order without powerful deterrence.
"We hope and we work for diplomatic solutions to the challenge presented by Kim Jong Un," Adm. Harry Harris, chief of the Hawaii-headquartered Pacific Command, told reporters, calling the North's leader by his name. "A strong diplomatic effort backed by a strong military effort is key." He added, "credible combat power" should be a support to diplomacy.
Harris made the remarks during the press conference at the Osan Air Base in Gyeonggi Province along with Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commanding general of the U.S. Forces Korea, the Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten and Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves. The Osan base is the U.S. Air Force base closest to the North and home to the U.S. Patriot missile defense system.
He described diplomacy as "the most important starting point," responding to speculation about the so-called red line for the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike against the North.
He was guarded about specific action plans.
"As far as a timeline, it would be crazy for me to share with you those tripwires in advance. If we did that, it would hardly be a military strategy," he said.
Meanwhile, the USFK chief emphasized the need for continuing regular combined military drills with South Korea.
On Monday, the allies kicked off the joint Ulchi Freedom Guardian training despite Pyongyang's constant demand that they halt such military drills which it has long viewed as a rehearsal for invasion.
Some observers here raised the possibility that Seoul and Washington may seek to downsize the drills.
"These exercises are very important," Brooks said, pointing out that the U.S. leadership has been clear that "the actions and activities of North Korea are dangerous."
The North test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, followed by a threat to shoot midrange missiles toward Guam, where some high-profile U.S. strategic assets are deployed in case of an emergency on the peninsula.
The commander of the 28,500-strong USFK said his troops have the responsibility for providing military options to their leaders.
"And exercises are a way of making sure that the option is a ready option and it's a capable option. And that's what underpins deterrence," he stressed. He said the allies should continue combined training despite "routine noise" from the North and a pause in its provocations until they have a reason not to do.
Greeves, who leads the Missile Defense Agency, acknowledged that the United States takes the North's ICBM technology "extremely seriously."
Hyten, however, said he's very confident about U.S. assets to thwart the threats.
He added his STRACOM is committed to providing the USFK with "all capabilities" it has, including missile defense systems. He said he's a supportive commander for the USFK chief.
It's quite unusual for the U.S. commanding generals serving abroad to gather in South Korea and release public statements together. It apparently reflects Washington's alertness against North Korea's rapid development of nuclear bombs and missiles.
The commanders inspected the UFG command-post drills scheduled to last through next Thursday. They then headed to the new USFK base for the THAAD missile defense system in Seongju, southeast of Seoul.
Their simultaneous trips here are also intended for introductory meetings with South Korea's new military leaders, including Defense Minister Song Young-moo and Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.