Trump: Nuke ar­se­nal in best con­di­tion ever

N. Korea shrugs at threats, says Guam plan in works

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Josh Lederman, Robert Burns, Cather­ine Lucey, Foster Klug, Kim Tong-hyung, Hyung-jin Kim, Deb Riech­mann and Lolita C. Bal­dor of The As­so­ci­ated Press; and by Philip Rucker, Karen DeYoung, Carol Morello, Anne

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.”

AP/VINCENT THIAN

“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.

The New York Times/U.S. Air Force/TECH. SGT. RICHARD P. EBENSBERGER

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.

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