The Republican Senator appeared on NBC to discuss North Korea’s rapidly advancing weapons programme.
“There is a military option: to destroy North Korea’s nuclear program and North Korea itself,” Mr Graham said. “He’s not going to allow - President Trump - the ability of this madman [Kim Jong Un] to have a missile that could hit America.”
The Senator added: “If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die over here - and he’s told me that to my face.”
Mr Graham’s press office has confirmed that the Senator was recalling the details of a conversation with Mr Trump.
Tensions between North Korea and the US have escalated in recent weeks, as the North Korean regime has tested increasingly advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICMBs). The country launched an ICBM last month reportedly capable of reaching Alaska or Hawaii. The Pentagon estimates North Korea could have a nuclear-capable ICBM as early as next year.
The US test-launched its own ICBM on Wednesday. The Pentagon said the launch was not a response to North Korean actions, but an effort to show America's nuclear programme is "safe, secure, effective".
Publicly, the White House has said only that they are “keeping all options on the table” when it comes to North Korea. But Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, has said military response is a definite possibility.
"One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces," Ms Haley said last month. "We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction."
According to top US military officials, however, war with North Korea would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale”.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Service Committee earlier this year, Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley claimed the levels of violence would be "immense, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since the Second World War”. A South Korean projection from 2004 estimates up to 2 million casualties in the first 24 hours of such a war.
But a military response is not the only option. Mr Trump has been stepping up pressure on China to control its neighbor, tweeting his dissatisfaction with the Chinese government and threatening to investigate their trade practises. Ms Haley is also pushing the UN to impose sanctions, telling her colleagues that “the time for talk is over”.
But Mr Graham, in his Today Show interview, went as far as to call warfare “inevitable” if the status quo continues.
“I’m saying it’s inevitable unless North Korea changes, because you’re making our president pick between regional stability and homeland security,” he said. “...When you're president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States.”
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