By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (Yonhap) -- The United States had launched a precision missile in 2017 to demonstrate to North Korea its ability to precisely strike any target, be it the North's launch site or its leader watching a test launch, Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward says in his soon-to-be-released book "Rage."
The move came in response to North Korea's test-firing of its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States, Woodward said in his new book, "Rage," set to be released Tuesday.
Quoting various U.S. officials, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, Woodward said the U.S. Forces Korea then reacted with a tactical missile that traveled 186 miles before dropping into the East Sea.
"That was the exact distance between the launching point of the U.S. missile and the North Korean missile test site, as well as a tent where satellite photos showed Kim Jong-un was watching the missile launch," Woodward wrote, according to excerpts of his book obtained by Yonhap News Agency.
"The meaning was meant to be clear: Kim Jong-un needed to worry about his personal safety," said Woodward, adding it was never confirmed whether the North had gotten the message.
North Korea, whether unaware or indifferent, continued to up its provocations, launching a more powerful ICBM only three weeks later on July 28 that "could have traveled 6,200 miles and hit much of the continental United States, according to the book.
On Aug. 29 that same year, North Korea launched another missile, a medium-range missile that flew directly over Japan, which Woodward describes as a "clear escalation" in provocation that "changed the character of the threat."
"Mattis could see the maximum military pressure was not being felt or seen by the North. He began looking for more aggressive response options and wondered if they should take some actual bombing action in a North Korean port to send the message," Woodward wrote.
The earlier part of the book also deals with Mattis agonizing over whether he would ever have to make a decision to use nuclear weapons to defend the U.S. from North Korea.
"(Mattis) did not think that President (Donald) Trump would launch a preemptive strike on North Korea, although plans for such a war were on the shelf," Woodward says in his upcoming book.
The Watergate reporter claims the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska, had carefully reviewed and studied Operation Plan 5027 (OPLAN 5027) that he says is aimed at "regime change in North Korea" that includes "the use of 80 nuclear weapons."
"This weighed heavily on me every day. I had to consider every day this could happen. This was not a theoretical concern," Mattis was quoted as saying.
"I was focused completely on how to prevent this or stop it as quickly as possible. Recognizing that the worst possible situation might dictate the use of nuclear weapons, with all that means in terms, not just that war, but the way it would change the shape of the world. That now nuclear weapons can be used again," the former defense secretary told Woodward, according to the book.
In a separate chapter, Woodward talks about one of his 18 interviews he had with President Trump for his book, in which he asked how close the U.S. had come to a war with North Korea in 2017.
"Much closer than anyone would know. Much closer," Trump was quoted as saying.
Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang began to cool in late 2017 when North Korea declared to have perfected its nuclear and ICBM capabilities.
Their relations further improved when Trump and Kim held the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore in June 2018.
The two leaders met again in February 2019 for their second summit and in June 2019 for brief talks at the Joint Security Area inside the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas.
Their talks have stalled since amid an impasse over how to sequence North Korea's denuclearization steps and U.S. concessions.
North Korea still has not fired a long-range missile since November 2017.
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