Trump team swings be­tween alarm, re­as­sur­ance on North Korea threat

Cape Breton Post - - World -

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his top na­tional se­cu­rity aides de­liv­ered con­trast­ing mes­sages of alarm and re­as­sur­ance over North Korea’s ex­pand­ing nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties, with the com­man­der in chief tout­ing Amer­ica’s atomic supremacy a day af­ter threat­en­ing “fire and fury’’ for the com­mu­nist coun­try.

As in­ter­na­tional alarm es­ca­lated over the still-re­mote pos­si­bil­ity of nu­clear con­fronta­tion, Trump on Wed­nes­day dug in on his threats of mil­i­tary ac­tion and posted video of his ul­ti­ma­tum to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In a rare flex­ing of Amer­ica’s own nu­clear might, Trump said his first or­der as pres­i­dent was to “ren­o­vate and mod­ern­ize’’ an arse­nal that is “now far stronger and more pow­er­ful than ever be­fore.’’

The sug­ges­tion that Trump has done any­thing to en­hance U.S. nu­clear fire­power was im­me­di­ately dis­puted by ex­perts, who noted no progress un­der Trump’s pres­i­dency. Still, Trump tweeted: “Hope­fully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most pow­er­ful na­tion in the world!’’

The tweets did lit­tle to soothe con­cerns in the United States and be­yond that Trump was help­ing push the stand­off with North Korea into un­char­tered and even more dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory. While the prospect of mil­i­tary ac­tion by ei­ther side ap­pears slim, given the level of dev­as­ta­tion that would en­sue, Trump’s talk Tues­day of “fire and fury like the world has never seen’’ com­pounded fears of an

ac­ci­dent or mis­un­der­stand­ing lead­ing the nu­clear-armed na­tions into con­flict.

This week, an of­fi­cial Ja­panese re­port and a clas­si­fied U.S. in­tel­li­gence doc­u­ment, as re­ported by The Wash­ing­ton Post, com­bined to sug­gest that the North was closer to be­ing able to strike the United States with a nu­clear mis­sile than pre­vi­ously be­lieved. The U.S. doc­u­ment re­port­edly as­sessed that the North had mas­tered the abil­ity to fit a nu­clear war­head on its long-range mis­siles.

Af­ter North Korea is­sued its own warn­ing to the U.S., sug­gest­ing it could at­tack the Amer­i­can

ter­ri­tory of Guam, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son sought to calm the sense of cri­sis.

Speak­ing ear­lier Wed­nes­day on his way home from Asia, he cred­ited Trump with send­ing a strong mes­sage to the North Korean leader on the “un­ques­tion­able’’ U.S. abil­ity to de­fend it­self, so as to pre­vent “any mis­cal­cu­la­tion.’’ Tiller­son in­sisted the U.S. isn’t sig­nalling a move to­ward mil­i­tary ac­tion, while it pur­sues a pol­icy of sanc­tions and iso­la­tion of North Korea.

“Amer­i­cans should sleep well at night,’’ Tiller­son told re­porters. He added: “Noth­ing that I have seen and noth­ing that

I know of would in­di­cate that the sit­u­a­tion has dra­mat­i­cally changed in the last 24 hours.’’

No sooner had Tiller­son ratch­eted down the rhetoric than De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis ratch­eted it back up.

Echo­ing Trump’s mar­tial tone, Mat­tis said North Korea should stand down its nu­clear weapons pro­gram and “cease any con­sid­er­a­tion of ac­tions that would lead to the end of its regime and the de­struc­tion of its peo­ple.’’ As sel­dom as it is for a pres­i­dent to speak of us­ing nu­clear mis­siles, the ref­er­ence to the “de­struc­tion’’ of a for­eign peo­ple is equally rare.


Peo­ple walk by a TV screen show­ing a lo­cal news pro­gram re­port­ing with an im­age of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at the Seoul Train Sta­tion in Seoul, South Korea, Wed­nes­day, Aug. 9, 2017.

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