‘LOCKED AND LOADED’:

Trump ratch­ets up rhetor­i­cal stand­off with North Korea; dis­misses calls for cau­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JONATHAN LEMIRE AND ERIC TAL­MADGE

BED­MIN­STER, N.J. — U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day is­sued an­other warn­ing of swift and force­ful re­tal­i­a­tion against nu­clear North Korea, declar­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary “locked and loaded.” He said the iso­lated na­tion’s leader “will re­gret it fast” if he takes any ac­tion against U.S. ter­ri­to­ries and al­lies.

The lat­est threat ap­peared to draw an­other red line that would trig­ger a U.S. at­tack and for a fourth day in a row ratch­eted up a rhetor­i­cal stand­off be­tween the two na­tions. Trump’s com­ments did not, how­ever, ap­pear to be backed by sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary mo­bi­liza­tion on ei­ther side of the Pa­cific, and an im­por­tant, quiet diplo­matic chan­nel re­mained open.

Speak­ing to re­porters from his New Jersey golf re­sort, Trump de­clined to ex­plain pre­cisely what he meant by the boast of mil­i­tary readi­ness. He brushed away calls for cau­tion from world lead­ers, in­clud­ing Ger­many’s An­gela Merkel. And he di­rectly called out Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, as a desta­bi­liz­ing force who should not be al­lowed to con­tinue his course.

“If he ut­ters one threat in the form of an overt threat — which by the way he has been ut­ter­ing for years and his fam­ily has been ut­ter­ing for years — or he does any­thing with re­spect to Guam or any­place else that’s an Amer­i­can ter­ri­tory or an Amer­i­can ally, he will truly re­gret it and he will re­gret it fast,” Trump said.

The com­pound­ing threats came in a week in which the long-stand­ing ten­sions be­tween the United States and the Com­mu­nist coun­try seemed to abruptly boil over.

New UN sanc­tions con­demn­ing the North’s rapidly de­vel­op­ing nu­clear pro­gram drew fresh ire and threats from Py­ongyang. Trump re­sponded by vow­ing to rain down “fire and fury” if chal­lenged.

The North then threat­ened to tar­get Guam, a tiny U.S. ter­ri­tory some 3,200 kilo­me­tres from Py­ongyang.

Trump of­fered re­as­sur­ance to Guam. “I feel that they will be very safe, be­lieve me,” Trump said Fri­day, with Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and UN Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley at his side.

Tough talk aside, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported Fri­day that talks be­tween se­nior U.S. and North Korean diplo­mats con­tinue through a back chan­nel pre­vi­ously used to ne­go­ti­ate the re­turn of Amer­i­cans held in North Korea. The talks have ex­panded to ad­dress the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the re­la­tion­ship, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials and oth­ers briefed on the process. They weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the con­fi­den­tial ex­changes and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Still, Trump on Fri­day sought to project mil­i­tary strength. He also spoke of pur­su­ing more sanc­tions on North Korea.

He tweeted: “Mil­i­tary solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act un­wisely. Hope­fully Kim Jong Un will find an­other path!”

Trump later retweeted a post­ing from U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand that showed B-1B Lancer bomber planes on Guam that “stand ready to ful­fil USFK’s #FightTonight mis­sion if called upon to do so.”

Such dec­la­ra­tions, how­ever, are not nec­es­sar­ily in­di­ca­tors of a new, more ag­gres­sive pos­ture. “Fight tonight” has long been the motto of U.S. forces in South Korea to show they are al­ways ready for com­bat on the Korean Penin­sula.

U.S. of­fi­cials in­sist there have been no new sig­nif­i­cant move­ment of troops, ships, air­craft or other as­sets to the re­gion other than what has al­ready been long planned for pre­vi­ously sched­uled ex­er­cises.

Amer­i­can and South Korean of­fi­cials said they would move for­ward later this month with the ex­er­cises, which North Korea claims are a re­hearsal for war.

All the war talk in re­cent days has alarmed in­ter­na­tional lead­ers.

Rus­sia’s for­eign min­is­ter, Sergey Lavrov, es­ti­mated the risk of a mil­i­tary con­flict be­tween the United States and North Korea as “very high,” and said Moscow was deeply con­cerned.

“When you get close to the point of a fight, the one who is stronger and wiser should be the first to step back from the brink,” Lavrov said Fri­day.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Don­ald Trump an­swers a ques­tion Fri­day re­gard­ing the on­go­ing sit­u­a­tion with North Korea.

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