Defense Secretary James Mattis has declared a war with North Korea would be ‘catastrophic’ – if tensions between the US and Kim Jong Un ever reached that point.

The 66-year-old retired Marine General made the comment during an interview with CBS News’ Face The Nation on Sunday morning. 

‘A conflict in North Korea, John, would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes,’ he told host John Dickerson.

‘Why do I say this? The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely-populated cities on Earth, which is the capital of South Korea.

Defense Secretary James Mattis (pictured) has declared a war with North Korea would be 'catastrophic'

Defense Secretary James Mattis (pictured) has declared a war with North Korea would be 'catastrophic'

Defense Secretary James Mattis (pictured) has declared a war with North Korea would be ‘catastrophic’

‘We are working with the international community to deal with this issue, this regime is a threat to the region, to Japan, to South Korea, and in the event of war they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well.

‘But the bottom line is it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into combat, if we’re not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means.’

Dickerson then asked Mattis, who was giving his first official interview as Defense Secretary, if North Korea’s military abilities had improved with recent tests.

‘We always assume that with a testing program they get better with each test,’ he said.

The 66-year-old retired Marine General made the comment during an interview with John Dickerson on CBS News' Face The Nation on Sunday morning

The 66-year-old retired Marine General made the comment during an interview with John Dickerson on CBS News' Face The Nation on Sunday morning

The 66-year-old retired Marine General made the comment during an interview with John Dickerson on CBS News’ Face The Nation on Sunday morning

Mattis then went on to explain the potential danger Kim Jong Un’s country poses to the US.

‘It is a direct threat to the United States,’he said.

‘They have been very clear in their rhetoric, we don’t have to wait until they have an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon on it to say that now it has manifested completely.’

But he would not be drawn on whether there was a ‘line’ North Korea could cross that would force the US to intervene.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the test of a new-type anti-aircraft guided weapon system  in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on May 28

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the test of a new-type anti-aircraft guided weapon system  in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on May 28

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the test of a new-type anti-aircraft guided weapon system in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on May 28

This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency  on May 22, 2017 shows North Korean ground-to-ground medium-to-long range strategic ballistic missile Pukguksong-2 being launched

This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency  on May 22, 2017 shows North Korean ground-to-ground medium-to-long range strategic ballistic missile Pukguksong-2 being launched

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on May 22, 2017 shows North Korean ground-to-ground medium-to-long range strategic ballistic missile Pukguksong-2 being launched

Secretary of Defense James Mattis walks past saluting cadets as he arrives for commencement ceremonies at the United States Military Academy in West Point on May 27

Secretary of Defense James Mattis walks past saluting cadets as he arrives for commencement ceremonies at the United States Military Academy in West Point on May 27

Secretary of Defense James Mattis walks past saluting cadets as he arrives for commencement ceremonies at the United States Military Academy in West Point on May 27

‘I’d prefer not to answer that… we do not draw red lines unless we intend to carry them out,’ he said.

Mattis then reiterated the belief North Korea is a ‘direct threat’, adding: ‘As far as that specific threat, I don’t want to put a timeline on it. At this time, what we know, I’d prefer to keep silent about because we may actually know some things the North Koreans don’t even know.’

The US will be taken further steps this week as it ramps up defense against a potential attack, with the Pentagon set to try to shoot down an intercontinental-range missile this week.

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