Rocket-com­mand chief: “Only ab­so­lute force can work on” U.S. pres­i­dent

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Josh Lederman and Matthew Pennington

North Korea says Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s warn­ing of “fire and fury” if the na­tion threat­ens the U.S. is a “load of non­sense.”

North Korea on Wed­nes­day of­fi­cially dis­missed Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s threats of “fire and fury,” declar­ing the Amer­i­can leader “bereft of rea­son” and warn­ing omi­nously, “Only ab­so­lute force can work on him.”

In a state­ment car­ried by state me­dia, Gen. Kim Rak Gyom, who leads North Korea’s rocket com­mand, also said his coun­try was “about to take” mil­i­tary ac­tion near the U.S. Pa­cific ter­ri­tory of Guam. He said the North would fi­nal­ize a plan by mid-Au­gust to fire four mid-range mis­siles hit­ting wa­ters 19 to 25 miles from the is­land.

The plan will then go to the com­man­der in chief of North Korea’s nu­clear force and “wait for his or­der,” Kim was quoted by KCNA as say­ing. He called it a “his­toric en­velop­ing fire at Guam.”

The state­ment only served to es­ca­late ten­sions fur­ther in a week that has seen a bar­rage of threats from both sides. While nu­clear con­fronta­tion still seems in­cred­i­bly re­mote, the com­ments have sparked deep un­ease in the United States, Asia and be­yond.

A day af­ter evok­ing the use of over­whelm­ing U.S. mil­i­tary might, Trump touted Amer­ica’s atomic supremacy. From the New Jersey golf re­sort where he’s va­ca­tion­ing, he tweeted that his first or­der as pres­i­dent was to “ren­o­vate and mod­ern­ize” an ar­se­nal that is “now far stronger and more pow­er­ful than ever be­fore.”

It was a rare pub­lic flex­ing of Amer­ica’s nu­clear might. And Trump’s boast­ing only added to the con­fu­sion over his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach to deal­ing with North Korea’s ex­pand­ing nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties on a day when his top na­tional se­cu­rity aides wa­vered be­tween mes­sages of alarm and re­as­sur­ance.

If Trump’s goal with two days of tough talk was to scare North Korea, Kim, the com­man­der, put that idea quickly to rest. He called Trump’s rhetoric a “load of non-

sense” 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 KCNA re­port quoted him 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.”

Guam lies about 2,100 miles from the Korean Penin­sula, and it’s ex­tremely un­likely Kim’s gov­ern­ment would risk an­ni­hi­la­tion with a pre-emp­tive at­tack on U.S. cit­i­zens.

It’s also un­clear how re­li­able North Korea’s mis­siles would be against such a dis­tant tar­get, but no one was writ­ing off the dan­ger com­pletely.

The new speci­ficity from Py­ongyang about its plans for a po­ten­tial at­tack came as Trump and his top na­tional se­cu­rity aides de­liv­ered con­trast­ing mes­sages over North Korea’s ex­pand­ing nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

As in­ter­na­tional alarm es­ca­lated, Trump dug in on his threats of mil­i­tary ac­tion and posted video of his ul­ti­ma­tum to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The sug­ges­tion that Trump has en­hanced U.S. nu­clear fire­power was im­me­di­ately dis­puted by ex­perts, who noted no progress un­der Trump’s pres­i­dency. Still, Trump tweeted, “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!”

The tweets did lit­tle to soothe con­cerns that Trump was help­ing push the stand­off with North Korea into un­charted and even more dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory. While the prospect of mil­i­tary ac­tion by either side ap­pears slim, given the level of dev­as­ta­tion that would en­sue, Trump’s talk Tues­day of “fire and fury like the world has never seen” com­pounded fears of an ac­ci­dent or mis­un­der­stand­ing lead­ing the nu­clear-armed na­tions into con­flict.

This week, an of­fi­cial Ja­panese re­port and a clas­si­fied U.S. in­tel­li­gence doc­u­ment, the lat­ter re­ported by The Wash­ing­ton Post, com­bined to sug­gest the North was closer to be­ing able to strike the United States with a nu­clear mis­sile than pre­vi­ously be­lieved. The U.S. doc­u­ment re­port­edly as­sessed that the North had mas­tered the abil­ity to fit a nu­clear war­head on its long-range mis­siles.

Af­ter North Korea is­sued its own warn­ing that sug­gested it could at­tack Guam, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son sought to calm the sense of cri­sis.

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