Trump team de-escalates the boss’s nuclear talk on N. Korea
WASHINGTON — He promised unpredictability and he’s delivering. On an issue with the highest stakes imaginable, the life-and-death matter of a nuclear showdown, Donald Trump’s team delivered mixed messages Wednesday, with some seeking to de-escalate the boss’s language.
Team Trump danced around questions such as: Was Trump serious when he vowed to unleash fire, fury, and power with unprecedented force in world history, as retaliation for North Korean threats? Was this a firm red line? Was this statement prepared in advance?
A spokesperson for his State Department even scolded reporters who pressed for more clarity: “I know you all want to obsess over statements and all of that and try to want to make a lot of noise,” Heather Nauert said.
Some reports said Trump’s words were improvised and surprised his own aides. The New York Times and CNN said the sheet of paper Trump was glancing at while uttering his threat was not a statement on North Korea — but a fact sheet on the opioid crisis.
A spokesperson for Trump had a more nuanced explanation.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the message had been co-ordinated — to a certain extent. She said the president’s chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly and the National Security Council, were aware of the tone he would take but: “The words were his own.”
The headline-grabbing statement caused some people, not just the news media, to snap to attention. It also prompted a spike in Google searches within the United States for, “How to survive a nuclear attack,” which increased 100fold from a day earlier.
What the president specifically threatened was retaliation in the event of “any more threats to the United States” — a stakes-escalating gambit, given that the trashtalking, nuke-chasing, Hermit Kingdom crosses this threshold on a near-daily basis.
In fact, North Korea did it again immediately.
The people of Guam woke up Thursday to another pointed threat from Pyongyang, which vowed to complete a plan to attack waters near the island by mid-August — adding a timeline to a threat from a day earlier that North Korea would create an “enveloping fire” around Guam. A Canadian delegation happened to be at the epicentre of the drama Wednesday, securing the release of a pastor who had been jailed for more than two years in North Korea.
Trump’s secretary of state was on Guam during a refuelling layover and he delivered a soothing message to anyone back home alarmed by the sudden escalation in rhetoric.
“I think Americans should sleep well at night,” said Rex Tillerson, who spent an hour on the phone with the president after his attention-grabbing threat.
“Have no concerns about this particular rhetoric over the last few days … I think what the president was just reaffirming is the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack and defend our allies and we will do so. So the American people should sleep well tonight.”
But not everyone downplayed the threat. Security aide Sebastian Gorka, compared the standoff with the Cuban Missile Crisis — that tense two-week period in 1962 when global superpowers reached the brink of mutual annihilation.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un exchanged threats with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday.