Trump: Nuke arsenal in best condition ever
N. Korea shrugs at threats, says Guam plan in works
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday declared the U.S. nuclear arsenal “far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” even as his top diplomat sought to ease concerns over the North Korea crisis by insisting that there isn’t “any imminent threat.”
North Korea, meanwhile, dismissed Trump’s Tuesday threats of “fire and fury,” declaring the American leader “bereft of reason” and warning: “Only absolute force can work on him.”
In a statement carried by state media, Gen. Kim Rak Gyom, who heads North Korea’s rocket command, said his country was “about to take” military action near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. He said the North will finalize a plan by mid-August to fire four midrange missiles hitting waters 19-25 miles away from the island.
The plan will then go to the commander in chief of North Korea’s nuclear force, and the nation will “wait for his order,” Kim was quoted by Korean Central News Agency as saying. He said the plan was for a “historic enveloping fire at Guam.”
In a series of early morning tweets Wednesday, Trump reaffirmed his threat from a day earlier by posting video of him issuing his warning that Pyongyang would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if the North made more threats to the U.S.
Then, Trump reminded followers that his first order as president had been to “renovate and modernize” the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
“Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!” Trump tweeted.
Trump did issue an executive order in his first days in office calling for a review to ensure that the U.S. nuclear deterrent is “modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready” and appropriately tailored for 21st-century threats.
But the White House has not detailed any findings from that evaluation. A modernization effort started by
former President Barack Obama is in its early stages, but the force is essentially unchanged from the way Trump inherited it Jan. 20.
Stephen Schwartz, an independent analyst of nuclear weapons issues, called Trump’s boast “patently absurd.” He wrote on Twitter that “literally nothing has happened in the last 201 days to increase the overall power of the US nuclear arsenal.”
Hours before Trump’s tweets, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged calm and said Americans should have “no concerns” despite the exchange of threats between the president and North Korea. Aboard his plane as he flew home from Asia, Tillerson insisted that the developments didn’t suggest that the U.S. is moving closer to a military option to deal with the crisis.
“Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson said.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, traveling on the West Coast, also sought to assuage fears.
“While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means,” Mattis said in a statement released by the Pentagon, “it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth.”
“The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates,” he said. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, is North Korea’s official name.
Tillerson on Wednesday also sought to explain the thinking behind Trump’s warning, saying the president was trying to send a strong and clear message to North Korea’s leader so there wouldn’t be “any miscalculation.”
“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un can understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the U.S.’ unquestionable ability to defend itself.”
He added that the U.S. “will defend itself and its allies.”
REACTION OF LAWMAKERS
Congress’ reaction was mixed, with Republicans saying Trump’s sharp language and threats might prove an effective strategy and Democrats almost universally condemning the president’s language as erratic and dangerous.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican on the Armed Services Committee, told CBS’ This Morning that Trump had “basically drawn a red line” by saying Pyongyang can’t ever have a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the U.S.
“He’s not going to let that happen,” Graham said. “He’s not going to contain the threat. He’s going to stop the threat.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said on CNN: “Why not give it a shot to say, ‘You talk about fire and fury, you say you are going to bury the United States in fire and fury. Hey, we got some fire and fury for you, too, if you want to play that game.’”
But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said that “reckless rhetoric is not a strategy to keep America safe.”
“President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric undermines our global credibility and is unlikely to de-escalate the situation,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said. “We need fewer fiery words and bombastic tweets from the president and his cable TV surrogates, and more effort to work with our international partners to expand missile defense and deterrence.”
Meanwhile, some key U.S. allies and international partners pushed back on the escalating rhetoric and called for greater efforts to open diplomatic talks.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry called on “all parties for moderation” and said “saber-rattling won’t help.”
The spokesman for the European Union’s foreign policy chief agreed that “a lasting peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula must be achieved through peaceful means” and said “that excludes military action.”
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Bill English called Trump’s comments “not helpful” in a standoff that is already “very tense.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned that responding to North Korea’s threats with “fire and fury” would have “catastrophic consequences” worldwide.
South Korea called the situation “very serious” but said it did not believe a crisis was imminent, according to Yonhap news agency.
China, North Korea’s increasingly alienated ally, cautioned all sides against “employing words or actions that could sharpen differences and escalate the situation.”
Tillerson, who spent the past few days in Asia discussing the North Korea conflict, said he doesn’t believe a new diplomatic strategy is needed. To the contrary, he said the latest threats from the North suggest that the current strategy is working.
After months of frustration over China’s reluctance to pressure North Korea economically, the U.S. on Saturday secured a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote to authorize new sanctions that target one-third of the North’s exports.
Tillerson said there is still an off-ramp available to Pyongyang: a return to negotiations with the U.S., a step that Tillerson has previously said can happen only if Kim Jong Un’s government gives up its nuclear aspirations, starting with an extended pause in missile tests.
“Talks,” Tillerson said when asked if North Korea had a way out. “Talks, with the right expectation of what those talks will be about.”
But Kim Rak Gyom, the North Korean commander, on Wednesday called Trump’s rhetoric a “load of nonsense” that was aggravating a grave situation.
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason, and only absolute force can work on him,” the Korean Central News Agency’s report quoted Kim saying.
Kim said the Guam action would be “an effective remedy for restraining the frantic moves of the U.S. in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity.”
“Americans should sleep well at night,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday, downplaying suggestions the U.S. was moving closer to a military option against North Korea.
Four Air Force B-1B bombers arrive at Andersen Air Force Base in the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam on Feb. 6. North Korea vowed Wednesday to finalize a plan by mid-August to fire four mid-range missiles hitting waters 19 to 25 miles away from the island.