SALT LAKE CITY — Military action by the United States against North Korea's efforts to advance its nuclear weapons program can't be ruled out, Rep. Chris Stewart said Monday, warning "we would rain hell down" if those weapons are ever deployed.
"I think it's in everyone's interests that we find a way to do this without the U.S. involving the military option. But you can't take that off the table. You just can't," Stewart, R-Utah, said.
The House Intelligence Committee member who just returned from a congressional trip to China, Japan and Hong Kong, said there would be no choice but to respond with force if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un utilized his nuclear arsenal.
"If he were to use a nuclear device, we would rain hell down on him and we should. And that's a horrible outcome, obviously, for everyone, including the innocent North Koreans who are just held as prisoners of his regime," Stewart said.
But a far more likely scenario, he said, would be to destroy North Korea's missiles before they're tested, either on the launching pad or intercepting them in the air to "not just send a message, but detract from their military capabilities."
Stewart also said while he thinks Americans presume China has more influence over North Korea, China is still key to resolving the volatile situation.
China, he said during an interview with KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright, has prioritized stability on the Korean peninsula over stopping North Korea's nuclear weapons program but is frustrated Kim is more difficult to deal with than his father and grandfather.
Now, though, China is "reaching a threshold now where they realize this is A) very dangerous, and B), that it's very unpredictable," Stewart said, predicting China is "going to be more of a partner with us than they've been."
Later, Stewart told the Deseret News that what he heard on his trip as a member of the intelligence committee has made him more confident there can be a peaceful resolution to preventing North Korea from developing nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States.
"We have to have China's help in that," he said, because China is the biggest power in the region and has the most contact with the otherwise isolated North Korea, providing resources.
He said if China will join the United States and other nations in enforcing sanctions, they "can bring enormous pressure on the leadership of North Korea" and that may be enough to halt the nuclear program.
Stewart said he has confidence in President Donald Trump to handle North Korea and praised diplomatic efforts by Vice President Mike Pence, now in the region, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Trump's "been exactly right. His response to Syria was the right response," Stewart said, referring to the missile strike the president ordered of a Syrian airfield in response to Syrian forces deploying chemical weapons in that nation's civil war.
There could be progress on the North Korea situation in the next few days, he said.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who was in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea several days ago as part of a congressional trip, said, "They're on edge up there."
Chaffetz said the United States has to put military assets in place in the region "so that if (Kim) does decide to do something stupid, we can quash it as quickly as possible."
He, too, said Trump and his administration are making the right moves.
"President Trump is playing this very well so far in engaging China," Chaffetz said, adding it is the nation best able to "relieve the pressure" being built up by North Korea, although he said there is also a role for Russia.
It can't just be the United States standing against North Korea, he said, and the nation needs to be able to defend itself and its allies, including South Korea, against an attack.
No one should forget that Kim has said he wants to bomb the United States, Chaffetz said. "I think we should take him at his word."