Pres­i­dent Trump threat­ens North Korea with ‘fire & fury’

Cecil Whig - - OBITUARIES & REGIONAL - By W.J. HENNIGAN, DAVID S. CLOUD & NOAH BIERMAN Tri­bune Wash­ing­ton Bu­reau

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump starkly warned North Korea over its nu­clear threats Tues­day in the kind of bel­li­cose rhetoric usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with the rulers in Py­ongyang, twice declar­ing, “They will be met with the fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The pres­i­dent’s dra­matic threat of an­ni­hi­la­tion raised fresh fears of a con­fronta­tion with North Korea, which suc­cess­fully tested an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile last month for the first time, and which has vowed to de­fend it­self with nu­clear weapons if nec­es­sary.

Trump spoke to re­porters from the club­house of his golf re­sort in Bed­min­ster, N.J., where he is on what the White House calls a 17day work­ing va­ca­tion. His com­ments came a day af­ter North Korean state me­dia is­sued a typ­i­cal anti-U.S. broad­side, say­ing Py­ongyang “will make the U.S. pay dearly for (its) heinous crimes.”

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son this week of­fered to re­sume ne­go­ti­a­tions with the iso­lated govern­ment in Py­ongyang if it would stop bal­lis­tic mis­sile tests, but Trump clearly de­cided to add a powerful stick to that car­rot.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” he said. “They will be met with the fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

He added that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “has been very threat­en­ing be­yond a nor­mal state. And as I have said, they will be met with the fire and the fury, and frankly power, the likes of which the world has never seen be­fore.”

Trump’s rhetoric in many ways mir­rors his North Korean coun­ter­part’s with its mus­cu­lar­ity. But it also is in line with the pres­i­dent’s blunt style.

Trump’s com­ments fol­lowed a new U.S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment in­di­cat­ing that North Korea has made strides to­ward build­ing a nu­clear war­head that could fit atop an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile. The re­port hard­ens pre­vi­ous U.S. as­sess­ments that date back to 2013.

U.S. of­fi­cials cau­tion that North Korea still has not de­vel­oped a nu­clear war- head ca­pa­ble of sur­viv­ing an ICBM’s fiery re-en­try into the at­mos­phere, but that step ap­pears in­creas­ingly likely.

The clas­si­fied re­port by the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency was dated July 28, the day North Korea tested its sec­ond and most powerful in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile. The two mis­sile launches rang alarms in Wash­ing­ton be­cause they in­di­cated North Korea for the first time had the ca­pa­bil­ity to strike Cal­i­for­nia and be­yond.

The DIA re­port as­sessed that Py­ongyang is also now ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing so­called minia­tur­ized nu­clear war­heads — about the size of a garbage can — to fit in the nosecone of an ICBM, a crit­i­cal step in the na­tion’s decade­long march to de­velop a nu­clear strike force, U.S. of­fi­cials said.

The re­port also as­sessed that North Korea has stock­piled as many as 60 nu­clear weapons, al­though out­side anal­y­sis says the arse­nal is much smaller, prob­a­bly fewer than 20.

David Al­bright, a for­mer United Na­tions nu­clear in­spec­tor, said Py­ongyang may have suc­ceeded in build­ing a war­head small enough to fit atop a mis­sile, but he doubts it has mas­tered the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges of launch­ing it on an ICBM to carry out an at­tack.

North Korea is not known to have de­vel­oped a re-en­try ve­hi­cle, which car­ries the war­head atop the ICBM, that can sur­vive the in­tense heat, pres­sure and vi­bra­tion as it reen­ters the at­mos­phere from space, he said.

Nor have North Korean tests demon­strated the abil­ity to hit a tar­get like a city with pre­ci­sion, he said.

“I’m skep­ti­cal they’re there,” Al­bright said. “They could put a war­head on it, but it’s very likely it would not sur­vive re-en­try or hit its tar­get.”

In North Korea’s tests of in­ter­me­di­ate range mis­siles, the re-en­try ve­hi­cles do not ap­pear to have sur­vived, said Al­bright, who heads a Wash­ing­ton pro­lif­er­a­tion re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion called the In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity.

Al­bright also has said he is doubt­ful that North Korea had pro­duced 60 nu­clear war­heads.

(Los An­ge­les Times staff writer Ralph Vartabe­dian con­trib­uted to this re­port from Los An­ge­les.)

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