Trump: ‘Fire and fury’ warning to North Korea maybe not enough
WASHINGTON – Agence France-PresseU.S. President Donald Trump has hardened his warning that North Korea would face “fire and fury” if it kept threatening the U.S., saying maybe that tough talk “wasn’t tough enough.”
But U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appeared to step back from his boss’ dire rhetoric, describing the prospect of war as “catastrophic” and adding that diplomatic efforts to solve the North Korea nuclear crisis were yielding results.
Trump in his new remarks on Aug. 10 also warned North Korea it should be “very, very nervous” of the consequences if it even thinks of attacking U.S. soil, after nuclear-armed Pyongyang said it was readying plans to launch missiles towards the Pacific territory of Guam.
The Republican billionaire dismissed any criticism of his “fire and fury” warning of Aug. 8, citing threats made by the regime of Kim Jong-Un to both Washington and its allies.
“It’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said.
Trump also said China, Pyongyang’s main diplomatic ally, could “do a lot more” to pressure Kim to end his country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Trump’s comments, made from his golf club retreat in New Jersey, came after the North announced a detailed plan to send four missiles over Japan and towards Guam, where some 6,000 U.S. soldiers are based.
Pyongyang said the scheme to target the island, a key U.S. military outpost in the western Pacific, was intended to “signal a crucial warning” as “only absolute force” would have an effect on a U.S. leader “bereft of reason.”
Trump fired back with gusto.
“If North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about an attack on anybody we love or we represent or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous,” he told reporters, with Vice President Mike Pence at his side.
“And they should be... because things will happen to them like they never thought possible.”
Relations between Washington and Pyongyang have been tense for months, in the wake of the North’s repeated missile tests, including two successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launches in July that brought much of the U.S. mainland within range.
The U.N. Security Council at the weekend passed a new set of sanctions against Pyongyang over its weapons program, including bans on the export of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore as well as fish and seafood.
The new punishment could cost North Korea $1 billion a year, and even ally China voted for the U.S.-drafted proposal.
Trump once again suggested that he expected China to “do a lot more” to bring North Korea into line.
“I will tell you this, North Korea better get their act together or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations have ever been in trouble in this world, okay?” he added.
The North’s unusually precise statement regarding Guam said its four missiles would be launched simultaneously and overfly the Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi.
They would have a flight time of 17 minutes 45 seconds, travel 3,356.7 kilometers and come down 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam, it said -- just outside U.S. territorial waters.
Analysts said such a launch would put the U.S. in a dilemma: If it did not try to intercept the missiles, its credibility would be damaged and the North would feel emboldened to carry out a full-range ICBM test.
But if an intercept were attempted and failed in any way, it would undermine the effectiveness of the United States’ ballistic missile defense system.
China is the North’s key ally and trading partner, but a state-run newspaper said Aug. 11 that it should not intervene on Pyongyang’s side if it triggered a conflict.
Beijing should “make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral,” the nationalistic Global Times said in an editorial.
Calls mounted in South Korea for Seoul to develop atomic weapons of its own in light of the situation, with the Korea Herald saying in an editorial: “Now is time to start reviewing nuclear armament.”
A South Korean bomb would infuriate Pyongyang, which says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion, and make bringing it to the negotiating table even harder.