Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis averted commenting on President Trump’s recent tweet informing North Korea he too has a “nuclear button” that’s “bigger” and “more powerful,” and instead told the press they could take the issue up with Trump himself.
Reporters asked Mattis during a press gaggle on Thursday his reaction to the tweet and if it concerned him.
“My job as the secretary of defense is to make certain that we have forces ready to defend this country,” Mattis said.
“But with all due respect Mr. Secretary — ,” a reporter interjected.
“That always preludes something that is perhaps less than due respect from you, Barbara,” Mattis said. “Go ahead, please.”
The reporter said the tweet was related to the defense of the country and pressed Mattis for his view on it.
“No, you'll have to take it up with the president,” Mattis said.
Trump’s tweet was prompted by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s claim Monday that the U.S. should know he has a nuclear button readily available on his desk.
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,’” Trump tweeted Tuesday evening in response. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
Contrary to what Trump's tweet implied, presidents do not have a “nuclear button,” but rather a briefcase known as a “football” that is carried by a military aide wherever the president goes. The “football” includes communication infrastructure and a briefing booklet with several war options for the president to pick.
North Korea ramped up its nuclear weapons and missile programs in 2017, Trump's first year in office, despite international pressure and sanctions designed to convince Pyongyang to stop.
The Trump administration has said it has not ruled out a military option for handling North Korea, but stressed it would rather take a diplomatic route.