Fresh barbs tar­get Korea

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Lemire

N.J.» Pres­i­dent BED­MIN­STER,

Don­ald Trump on Fri­day is­sued fresh threats of swift and force­ful re­tal­i­a­tion against nu­clear North Korea, declar­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary “locked and loaded” and warn­ing that the com­mu­nist coun­try’s leader “will re­gret it fast” if he takes any ac­tion against U.S. ter­ri­to­ries or al­lies.

The warn­ings came in a cas­cade of un­scripted state­ments through­out the day, each ratch­et­ing up a rhetor­i­cal stand­off be­tween the two nu­clear na­tions. The pres­i­dent ap­peared to draw an­other red line that would trig­ger a U.S. at­tack against North Korea and “big, big trou­ble” for its leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump’s com­ments, how­ever, did not ap­pear to be backed by sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary mo­bi­liza­tion on ei­ther side of the Pa­cific, and an im­por­tant, quiet diplo­matic chan­nel re­mained open.

“If he ut­ters one threat in the form of an overt threat — which by the way he has been ut­ter­ing for years and his fam­ily has been ut­ter­ing for years — or 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,” Trump told re­porters at his New Jersey golf re­sort.

Asked if the U.S. was go­ing to war, he said cryp­ti­cally, “I think you know the an­swer to that.”

The com­pound­ing threats came in a week in which long­stand­ing ten­sions be­tween the coun­tries risked abruptly boil­ing over. New United Na­tions sanc­tions con­demn­ing the North’s rapidly de­vel­op­ing nu­clear pro­gram drew fresh ire and threats from Py­ongyang. Trump re­sponded by vow­ing to rain down “fire and fury” if chal­lenged. The North then threat­ened to lob mis­siles near Guam, a tiny U.S. ter­ri­tory some 2,000 miles from Py­ongyang.

Tough talk aside, talks be­tween se­nior U.S. and North Korean diplo­mats con­tinue through a back chan­nel pre­vi­ously used to ne­go­ti­ate the re­turn of Amer­i­cans held in North Korea. The talks have ex­panded to ad­dress the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the re­la­tion­ship. They haven’t quelled ten­sions, but could be a foun­da­tion for more diplo­macy, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials and oth­ers briefed on the process. They weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the con­fi­den­tial ex­changes and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Trump on Fri­day sought to project mil­i­tary strength, only di­al­ing back slightly through­out the day.

He be­gan with a morn­ing tweet: “Mil­i­tary solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act un­wisely. Hope­fully Kim Jong Un will find an­other path!”

He later retweeted a post­ing from U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand that showed B-1B Lancer bomber planes on Guam that “stand ready to ful­fill USFK’s #FightTonight mis­sion if called upon to do so.” Such dec­la­ra­tions, how­ever, don’t in­di­cate a new, more ag­gres­sive pos­ture. “Fight tonight” has long been the motto of U.S. forces in South Korea to show they’re al­ways ready for com­bat on the Korean Penin­sula.

Trump de­clined to ex­plain the boast of mil­i­tary readi­ness when asked by re­porters later in the day at an event high­light­ing work­force de­vel­op­ment pro­grams.

He also brushed away calls for cau­tion from world lead­ers, in­clud­ing Ger­many’s An­gela Merkel.

“I don’t see a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion and I don’t think it’s called for,” Merkel said Fri­day, de­clin­ing to say whether Ger­many would stand with the U.S. in a mil­i­tary con­flict with North Korea. She called on the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to con­tinue to ad­dress the cri­sis.

“I think es­ca­lat­ing the rhetoric is the wrong an­swer,” Merkel added.

“Let her speak for Ger­many,” Trump said, when asked about the com­ment. “Per­haps she is re­fer­ring to Ger­many. She’s cer­tainly not re­fer­ring to the United States, that I can tell you.”

By evening, af­ter a brief­ing with top ad­vis­ers and stand­ing next to his sec­re­tary of state and U.N. am­bas­sador, Trump sug­gested diplo­macy could yet pre­vail.

“Hope­fully it’ll all work out,” Trump said. “No­body loves a peace­ful so­lu­tion bet­ter than Pres­i­dent Trump.”

The pres­i­dent said he in­tended to speak Fri­day evening with China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, whom he has pushed to pres­sure North Korea to halt a nu­clear weapons pro­gram that is near­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity of tar­get­ing the United States.

Faced with per­haps his big­gest in­ter­na­tional cri­sis as pres­i­dent, Trump has re­sponded with an abun­dance of swag­ger and a lot of words. He’s held a se­ries of free­wheel­ing press con­fer­ences with re­porters, an­swer­ing com­plex and deli- cate ques­tions ap­par­ently off the cuff. On Fri­day, he veered from North Korea to com­ments on pol­i­tics.

He even sug­gested he would con­sider mil­i­tary ac­tion against Venezuela, puz­zling his mil­i­tary plan­ners.

Trump an­nounced he planned to hold an­other press con­fer­ence in Washington Mon­day.

Be­hind the threats, U.S. of­fi­cials in­sist there has been no new sig­nif­i­cant move­ment of troops, ships, air­craft or other as­sets to the re­gion other than for long sched­uled mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea.

Amer­i­can and South Korean of­fi­cials said the ex­er­cises would hap­pen as planned this month. North Korea claims they’re a re­hearsal for war.

The U.S.-South Korea ex­er­cises are an an­nual event.

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