Pres­i­dent takes war of words up a notch

North Korea could use a tougher warn­ing, he says. But de­fense chief focuses on diplo­macy.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Noah Bier­man

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump re­in­forced his threat to un­leash “fire and fury” on North Korea de­spite wide­spread crit­i­cism of his bel­li­cos­ity, say­ing Thurs­day that his ini­tial state­ment maybe “wasn’t tough enough.”

The strong lan­guage — Trump used ver­sions of the word “tough” four times dur­ing one seven-minute ex­change with re­porters, while down­play­ing the po­ten­tial for ne­go­ti­a­tions and sanc­tions — came only hours af­ter Sec­re­tary of De­fense James. N. Mat­tis stressed the im­por­tance of diplo­macy in the in­creas­ingly tense stand­off with the nu­clear-armed state.

“Of course there’s a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion,” Mat­tis told re­porters en route to a visit to a nu­clear sub­ma­rine base in Seattle, which he said was long planned. “But what we’re try­ing to do here is leave it loud and clear … in the diplo­matic arena: It is North Korea’s choice. Do you want a much bet­ter fu­ture — the en­tire world com­mu­nity is say­ing one thing — or do you want a much worse fu­ture?”

Trump, how­ever, ex­pressed lit­tle hope that ne­go­ti­a­tions could defuse ten­sion or put an end to North Korea’s pro­gram to de­velop nu­clear-armed in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles ca­pa­ble of strik­ing the United States or its al­lies.

“Sure, we’ll al­ways con­sider ne­go­ti­a­tions. But they’ve been ne­go­ti­at­ing now for 25 years,” he said, ad­dress­ing re­porters from his golf club in Bed­min­ster, N.J., with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence be­side him.

The state­ment came in one of two im­promptu news

‘If he does some­thing in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen be­fore .... It’s not a dare. It’s a state­ment.’

con­fer­ences Trump held, for just un­der 30 min­utes com­bined, be­fore and af­ter a se­cu­rity brief­ing from top ad­vi­sors. The pres­i­dent is on what the White House is call­ing a work­ing va­ca­tion, a 17day stay mainly at his club that so far has in­cluded long pe­ri­ods out of pub­lic view punc­tu­ated by a few meet­ings, provoca­tive tweets and of­fi­cial state­ments.

Di­ver­gent mes­sages from Trump and his top ad­vi­sors are not un­com­mon. But they have been a hall­mark of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to North Korea since Tues­day, when the Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported on U.S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments that the ad­ver­sar­ial na­tion had pro­duced a minia­tur­ized nu­clear war­head com­pat­i­ble with its mis­siles.

Trump’s ini­tial Tues­day com­ments, an off-the-cuff warn­ing that threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” prompted Kim to threaten a mis­sile at­tack on Guam, the U.S. ter­ri­tory in the Pa­cific that is home to a huge Amer­i­can mil­i­tary base.

Trump ac­cused his White House pre­de­ces­sors of timid­ity, of let­ting Kim get away with such threats with­out blow­back. “It’s about time that some­body stuck up for the peo­ple of this coun­try and for the peo­ple of other coun­tries,” he said.

“Let’s see what he does with Guam,” Trump said of Kim later, dur­ing his sec­ond round with re­porters. “If he does some­thing in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen be­fore.”

“It’s not a dare,” the pres­i­dent added. “It’s a state­ment.”

North Korea on Thurs­day pro­vided un­usual de­tail about its threat to Guam, say­ing a plan would be ready for Kim’s ap­proval by midAu­gust.

The state-run Korean Cen­tral News Agency re­ported on a state­ment that the gov­ern­ment in Py­ongyang is “se­ri­ously ex­am­in­ing the plan for an en­velop­ing strike at Guam through si­mul­ta­ne­ous fire of four Hwa­song-12 in­ter­me­di­ate-range strate­gic bal­lis­tic rock­ets in or­der to in­ter­dict the en­emy forces on ma­jor mil­i­tary bases on Guam and to sig­nal a cru­cial warn­ing to the U.S.”

The state­ment quoted a North Korean gen­eral, Kim Rak Gyom, as say­ing of Trump, “Sound di­a­logue is not pos­si­ble with such a guy bereft of rea­son and only ab­so­lute force can work on him.”

The gen­eral dis­missed Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” as a “load of non­sense.”

Trump seemed to be bet­ting that strong words lodged against Py­ongyang would go fur­ther than the diplo­matic ac­tions un­der­taken by his ad­min­is­tra­tion, go­ing so far as to ex­press un­cer­tainty in them to re­porters. He also con­tra­dicted him­self, al­ter­nately dis­miss­ing and pro­mot­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of in­flu­enc­ing Kim’s be­hav­ior with a new set of sanc­tions that was ap­proved unan­i­mously last week in the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

“Prob­a­bly, it will not be as ef­fec­tive as a lot of peo­ple think it can be,” Trump said in his first ex­change with re­porters. “Big im­pact,” he de­clared about an hour later.

His bel­liger­ent lan­guage, in match­ing Kim’s rhetoric, has height­ened anx­i­ety and fear among Amer­i­cans and al­lies about a nu­clear con­fronta­tion with a volatile ad­ver­sary. Trump again de­clined to rule out a first strike, re­it­er­at­ing his pol­icy of re­fus­ing to dis­cuss fu­ture mil­i­tary plans.

At an­other point, he used vague and sharp lan­guage to de­mand that North Korea “get their act to­gether,” or “they’re go­ing to be in trou­ble like few na­tions ever have been in trou­ble in this world.”

Asked to pro­vide re­as­sur­ance to Amer­i­cans con­cerned by the heated words be­tween the two coun­tries, Trump pointed to the strength of the mil­i­tary. He again spoke of the nu­clear threat, not cli­mate change, as the great­est one the world faces, and said he would be an­nounc­ing a plan next week to add bil­lions of dol­lars to the na­tion’s mis­sile de­fense.

The pres­i­dent had tweeted falsely Wed­nes­day that he al­ready up­graded the na­tion’s nu­clear ar­se­nal, when in fact Pres­i­dent Obama launched a mod­ern­iza­tion ef­fort in 2014 and Trump has not had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on that en­deavor since tak­ing of­fice.

Trump also re­newed hints that he may pull out of the in­ter­na­tional ac­cord that dis­man­tled Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, a prom­ise he made on the cam­paign trail that has un­set­tled al­lies, in­clud­ing Euro­peans, China and Rus­sia, that helped ne­go­ti­ate it.

“It’s a hor­ri­ble agree­ment,” Trump said. But the Ira­ni­ans “are not in com­pli­ance with the agree­ment and they are cer­tainly not in the spirit of the agree­ment in com­pli­ance, and I think you’ll see some very strong things tak­ing place if they don’t get them­selves in com­pli­ance.”

Mat­tis’ re­marks on North Korea were nearly the op­po­site of Trump’s. Al­though he did not take threats of force off the ta­ble, he made it clear that diplo­macy was the first op­tion.

“You can see the Amer­i­can ef­fort is diplo­mat­i­cally led, it has diplo­matic trac­tion, it is gain­ing diplo­matic re­sults, and I want to stay right there right now,” Mat­tis told re­porters trav­el­ing with him in Sil­i­con Val­ley. “The tragedy of war is well enough known. It doesn’t need an­other char­ac­ter­i­za­tion be­yond the fact that it would be cat­a­strophic.”

He walked a fine line in rec­on­cil­ing those com­ments with the com­man­der in chief’s, say­ing ear­lier that Trump is the one elected by the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

“You can see his diplo­matic ef­fort to try to stop it,” Mat­tis said. “He’s just show­ing the con­cern he has.”

The dis­con­nect within the ex­ec­u­tive branch was high­lighted in a ra­dio in­ter­view that one of Trump’s most fer­vent aides in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s na­tion­al­ist wing, Sebastian Gorka, gave to the BBC on Thurs­day. The rel­a­tively ju­nior ad­vi­sor down­played the in­flu­ence of Cabi­net mem­ber Rex Tiller­son, the sec­re­tary of State who had urged Amer­i­cans to “sleep well at night” amid the North Korea stand­off.

“You should lis­ten to the pres­i­dent. The idea that Sec­re­tary Tiller­son is go­ing to dis­cuss mil­i­tary mat­ters is sim­ply non­sen­si­cal,” Gorka said in a record­ing re­ported by the Wash­ing­ton Post.

“It is the job of Sec­re­tary Mat­tis, the sec­re­tary of De­fense, to talk about the mil­i­tary op­tions, and he has done so un­equiv­o­cally,” Gorka added. “He said, ‘Woe be­tide any­one who mil­i­tar­ily chal­lenges the United States,’ and that is his port­fo­lio. That is his man­date. Sec­re­tary Tiller­son is the chief diplo­mat of the United States, and it is his port­fo­lio to han­dle those is­sues.”

Ni­cholas Kamm AFP/Getty Images

PRES­I­DENT TRUMP said his pre­vi­ous state­ments on North Korea were per­haps not tough enough.

Jeon Heon-kyun Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

NORTH KOREAN leader Kim Jong Un, cen­ter, seen in a news broad­cast in Seoul, has threat­ened a mis­sile strike on Guam.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.