U.S. ‘locked and loaded,’ Trump warns North Korea

Pres­i­dent sug­gests that the mil­i­tary is poised to strike should Kim Jong Un ‘act un­wisely.’

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Noah Bier­man and W.J. Hen­ni­gan

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Trump capped a week of charged rhetoric aimed at North Korea on Fri­day with a more pre­cise threat of force, tweet­ing, “mil­i­tary so­lu­tions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act un­wisely.”

He added: “Hope­fully Kim Jong Un will find an­other path!”

For a sec­ond day, Trump followed up his provoca­tive posts on Twit­ter with more ex­pan­sive com­ments to re­porters mon­i­tor­ing his work­ing va­ca­tion from his New Jersey golf club. He dis­missed the po­ten­tial for back-chan­nel ne­go­ti­a­tions and re­it­er­ated his calls to North Korean leader Kim to halt his threats to the U.S. and its al­lies.

“If he ut­ters one threat in the form of an overt threat,” Trump told re­porters, “if 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.”

The am­bigu­ous phrase “overt threat” sug­gested that the pres­i­dent was try­ing to set a higher bar for re­tal­i­a­tion than he had ear­lier in the week, when he sim­ply said any threat could trig­ger ac­tion.

Trump’s com­ments through­out the week — im­pro­vised with­out the re­view from na­tional se­cu­rity aides that such del­i­cate mat­ters usu­ally get — have alarmed many al­lies and mem­bers of the for­eign pol­icy com­muni-

ty, who have ex­pressed in­creas­ing con­cern that the pres­i­dent is in­flam­ing a volatile sit­u­a­tion with an un­pre­dictable, nu­clear-armed foe.

The height­ened ten­sion prompted Guam, the U.S. ter­ri­tory in the Pa­cific that has been the sub­ject of North Korean threats, to post emer­gency guide­lines of­fer­ing specific ad­vice in the event of a nu­clear mis­sile at­tack, in­clud­ing an ad­mo­ni­tion against us­ing hair con­di­tioner “be­cause it will bind ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial to your hair.”

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, a stal­wart ally who has clashed with Trump re­peat­edly, said Ger­many would stand by Amer­ica in a war but warned that there was no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion and that fiery talk would be fool­ish. “I con­sider an es­ca­la­tion of rhetoric the wrong an­swer,” she said.

Trump, asked about her com­ments later, said Merkel spoke for Ger­many, “per­haps” — not the United States.

China, North Korea’s most im­por­tant ally, tried to cool the sit­u­a­tion. Its sta­te­owned news­pa­per, Global Times, which of­ten re­flects the Chi­nese govern­ment’s of­fi­cial pol­icy, gave no­tice to North Korea in an ed­i­to­rial that Beijing would re­main neu­tral if Py­ongyang at­tacked first, and told Washington that it would in­ter­vene should the United States pre­emp­tively strike.

“The un­cer­tainty in the Korean penin­sula is grow­ing,” the news­pa­per wrote. “Beijing is not able to per­suade Washington or Py­ongyang to back down at this time. It needs to make clear its stance to all sides and make them un­der­stand that when their ac­tions jeop­ar­dize China’s in­ter­ests, China will re­spond with a firm hand.”

Trump has not been de­terred by con­cerns about his rhetoric from gov­ern­ments and for­eign pol­icy an­a­lysts.

“My crit­ics are only say­ing it be­cause it’s me,” he said, as­sert­ing that tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans are pleased that he is stand­ing up to Kim’s regime and that any other Amer­i­can leader would have been praised by estab­lish­ment voices for us­ing such force­ful lan­guage.

He ap­pears to be pur­su­ing a good cop/bad cop ap­proach, hop­ing his threats, con­trasted with more con­cil­ia­tory words from his Cab­i­net, will cow Kim. So far, the lan­guage has only met with in­creas­ingly heated words from Py­ongyang, in­clud­ing the threat to Guam.

Trump has ap­peared rest­less dur­ing his break in New Jersey, tweet­ing of­ten and hold­ing im­promptu ses­sions with re­porters, while spend­ing long stretches out­side the public eye. In ad­di­tion to the “locked and loaded” tweet, Trump also retweeted one from the U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand with pic­tures of fighter jets and the state­ment: “Lancer #bombers on Guam stand ready.”

Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ar­rived in Honolulu on Fri­day amid the stand­off on a pre­vi­ously planned visit with lead­ers of the Pa­cific Com­mand, which over­sees op­er­a­tions in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. Dun­ford will also meet with for­eign lead­ers dur­ing the trip.

De­spite Trump’s “locked and loaded” tweet, the Pen­tagon has not an­nounced any major de­ploy­ments of troops or move­ments of ships to the Korean penin­sula. But of­fi­cials say that the U.S. mil­i­tary stands by its motto to be ready to “fight tonight” against North Korean aggression.

No air­craft car­ri­ers are pa­trolling off the North Korean coast. The Ron­ald Rea­gan and Carl Vin­son car­ri­ers, which con­ducted naval ex­er­cises in June with Ja­panese forces in the Sea of Ja­pan in a rare show of power, are now docked in their home ports.

“We al­ways main­tain a high state of readi­ness and have the ca­pa­bil­i­ties to counter any threat, to in­clude those from North Korea,” Lt. Col. Christo­pher B. Lo­gan, a Pen­tagon spokesman, said in a state­ment.

U.S. and South Korean forces are pre­par­ing for an­nual air, land and sea ex­er­cises in­volv­ing 17,500 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers later this month. The regular ex­er­cises, dubbed Ulchi-Free­dom Guardian, have been sched­uled for Aug. 21-31, but el­e­vate the chance of mis­cal­cu­la­tion.

“If mis­cal­cu­la­tion oc­curs, we will then be caught in a cri­sis with­out an ef­fec­tive means of di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the two sides,” said Scott Snyder, direc­tor of the pro­gram on U.S.-Korea pol­icy at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

“The out­come and con­se­quences of such a cri­sis could be great and could have long-last­ing un­pre­dictable ef­fects on the re­gional se­cu­rity or­der,” Snyder added.

U.S. al­lies, mean­while, are mak­ing prepa­ra­tions against North Korea’s threats to fire four Hwa­song-12 in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles at Guam.

Ja­panese govern­ment of­fi­cials told re­porters the mil­i­tary in­tended to po­si­tion its two-tiered mis­sile de­fense sys­tems as needed to pro­tect against a po­ten­tial North Korean at­tack.

“We will con­sider var­i­ous fac­tors and take the nec­es­sary mea­sures,” said De­fense Min­is­ter It­sunori On­odera, ac­cord­ing to the Nikkei Asian Re­view, an English-lan­guage news­pa­per in Ja­pan.

Sev­eral veter­ans of the re­gion say Trump is push­ing the is­sue to the brink be­fore he has to, dam­ag­ing im­por­tant lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the mean­time given that North Korea’s ca­pac­ity to de­liver lon­grange nu­clear mis­siles is still not fully es­tab­lished, and could be months or years away.

“It’s not a Cuban mis­sile cri­sis. It’s not some­thing where you have a short, ur­gent need to act,” said An­thony H. Cordes­man, a na­tional se­cu­rity vet­eran who has served in sev­eral ad­min­is­tra­tions, be­gin­ning with Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s.

Cordes­man wor­ries that Trump “has now set the equiv­a­lent of a red line in the minds of vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one who is lis­ten­ing to him.”

R. Ni­cholas Burns, a Har­vard Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who has held sev­eral high-rank­ing State De­part­ment po­si­tions, said Trump should beef up the U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in the re­gion and con­sider im­pos­ing even harsher “sec­ondary sanc­tions” against those who do busi­ness with the Py­ongyang regime. Then Trump should get off Twit­ter, quit mak­ing im­pro­vised state­ments, and al­low Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son to lead with a more con­sis­tent mes­sage, Burns added.

“They may not un­der­stand Don­ald Trump’s psy­chol­ogy,” he said of the North Kore­ans. “You don’t want your ad­ver­sary in the nu­clear age to be con­fused by what you’re try­ing to say.”

Jim Wat­son AFP/Getty Im­ages

PRES­I­DENT TRUMP with Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and United Na­tions Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley.

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