Trump gets backup on N. Korea

Tiller­son, Mat­tis use strong words

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAYLOR AND DAVE BOYER

The State and De­fense de­part­ments pro­vided backup Wed­nes­day to Pres­i­dent Trump’s threat a day ear­lier to rain down “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea did not curb its nu­clear pro­grams, but there was lit­tle sign Py­ongyang was seek­ing to ease its threats against the U.S. and its al­lies in the re­gion.

Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son and Sec­re­tary of De­fense James Mat­tis of­fered stern words for the North in the wake of re­ports that the regime of Kim Jong-un may have de­vel­oped a nu­clear de­vice small enough to fit on a mis­sile that could reach much of the U.S. home­land.

“What the pres­i­dent is do­ing is send­ing a strong mes­sage to North Korea in lan­guage that Kim Jong-un can un­der­stand,” Mr. Tiller­son said. “The pres­i­dent just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime.”

Mr. Mat­tis of­fered his own blunt mes­sage by urg­ing North Korea to “stand down its pur­suit of nu­clear weapons” or face a U.S. re­sponse “that would lead to the end of its regime and the de­struc­tion of its peo­ple.”

North Korea’s ini­tial re­sponse was

to say it was up­dat­ing plans tar­get­ing the “wa­ters around Guam,” where the U.S. main­tains a ma­jor mil­i­tary base. North Korean au­thor­i­ties also or­ga­nized a large rally in Py­ongyang Wed­nes­day as a show of de­fi­ance against tough new eco­nomic sanc­tions ap­proved by the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Satur­day.

Gen­eral Kim Rak Gyom, who heads North Korea’s rocket com­mand, told state me­dia early Thurs­day morn­ing that Mr. Trump’s threat was “a load of non­sense” and that “only ab­so­lute force” can de­ter the new Amer­i­can pres­i­dent.

De­spite the bit­ing rhetoric and crit­i­cism, how­ever, there was a pal­pa­ble less­en­ing of the fears that a mil­i­tary clash on the Korean Penin­sula was im­mi­nent. The re­sponse in both South Korea and Ja­pan, U.S. al­lies al­ready within range of the North’s nu­clear and con­ven­tional ar­se­nal, was no­tice­ably more muted.

There was also lit­tle sign of panic on the is­land of Guam, where the beaches and tourist ho­tels were re­port­edly full on Wed­nes­day. Guam Gov. Ed­die Baza Calvo recorded a YouTube video de­signed to try to al­lay any con­cerns res­i­dents might have, say­ing, “I want to re­as­sure the peo­ple of Guam that cur­rently there is no threat to our is­land or the Mar­i­anas.”

Mr. Tiller­son said the pres­i­dent was jus­ti­fied be­cause North Korea’s own threat­en­ing rhetoric had “ratch­eted up louder and louder” re­cently in re­sponse to grow­ing in­ter­na­tional pres­sure over its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams. But he also noted he was pass­ing through Guam on his way home from a re­gional sum­mit in the Philip­pines and never con­sid­ered al­ter­ing his route be­cause of Py­ongyang’s threat.

“I do not be­lieve that there is any im­mi­nent threat, in my own view,” Mr. Tiller­son told re­porters.

In a di­rect warn­ing to Py­ongyang not to es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion, Mr. Mat­tis said the North Korean regime “would lose any arms race or con­flict it ini­ti­ates.”

The White House in­sisted the pres­i­dent and his top se­cu­rity and diplo­matic ad­vis­ers were on the “same page” as the con­fronta­tion flared up in re­cent days. Spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said Mr. Trump’s ad­vis­ers were not sur­prised by the sharp­ness of his tone Tues­day.

“The words were [Mr. Trump’s] own,” Mrs. San­ders said in a state­ment. “The tone and strength of the mes­sage were dis­cussed be­fore­hand.”

Low­er­ing the ten­sion

North Korea has con­ducted 14 mis­sile tests this year, in­clud­ing two test-fir­ings of in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles last month po­ten­tially ca­pa­ble of reach­ing not just Guam but the U.S. main­land.

But some ex­perts in Washington — in­clud­ing some for­eign pol­icy hawks — sought Wed­nes­day to lower the hype and me­dia hys­te­ria sur­round­ing the U.S.North Korea ten­sions this week.

“There is no ques­tion that North Korea poses a ma­jor threat to its neigh­bors and can drag the United States and po­ten­tially China into a se­ri­ous re­gional con­flict,” long­time na­tional se­cu­rity an­a­lyst An­thony H. Cordes­man said in an as­sess­ment for the Cen­ter for Strate­gic In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “At the same time, no one should ex­ag­ger­ate the threat to the point of panic or make North Korea into some kind of tow­er­ing threat.”

U.S. al­lies Ja­pan and South Korea also ap­peared ea­ger to down­play the threats com­ing from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the gov­ern­ment in Seoul would con­tinue to push for a peace deal with Py­ongyang and main­tained that the South Korean pres­i­dent’s of­fice did not be­lieve a cri­sis was im­mi­nent.

In Ja­pan, gov­ern­ment spokesman Yoshi­hide Suga spent more time an­swer­ing ques­tions on Wed­nes­day about a dis­pute with the U.S. over the safety of its Osprey mil­i­tary air­craft than about North Korea, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Bloomberg, which cited a se­nior Ja­panese of­fi­cial as say­ing very few peo­ple in the gov­ern­ment in Tokyo were tak­ing Mr. Trump’s com­ments se­ri­ously.

Mr. Tiller­son told re­porters that mount­ing in­ter­na­tional pres­sure, in­clud­ing from China and Rus­sia, will work to “per­suade” the North Kore­ans “to re­con­sider the cur­rent path­way they’re on and think about en­gag­ing in a di­a­logue.”

“Amer­i­cans should sleep well at night [and] have no con­cerns about this par­tic­u­lar rhetoric of the last few days,” he added.

But the tough talk from Mr. Trump and his ad­vis­ers has made Democrats ner­vous. Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee Vice Chair­man Mark R. Warner, Vir­ginia Demo­crat, on Wed­nes­day urged the pres­i­dent to “think through all of our op­tions.”

“Im­pro­vis­ing our way into a shoot­ing war on the Korean Penin­sula with­out a plan puts us all at risk,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Mat­tis said Wed­nes­day that up­grad­ing the U.S. nu­clear ar­se­nal was a pri­or­ity of Mr. Trump’s even be­fore tak­ing of­fice, one made all the more ur­gent due to the grow­ing threat from North Korea.

“My first or­der as pres­i­dent was to ren­o­vate and mod­ern­ize our nu­clear ar­se­nal. It is now far stronger and more pow­er­ful than ever be­fore,” Mr. Trump said on Twit­ter. “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 U.S. has em­barked on a $1 tril­lion 30-year plan that was put in mo­tion un­der Pres­i­dent Obama to up­grade its nu­clear war­heads and de­liv­ery sys­tems, in­clud­ing new bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­marines, land-based mis­siles and long-range stealth bombers.

The size and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of North Korea’s nu­clear ar­se­nal aren’t known, although it’s be­lieved that Py­ongyang has enough weapons-grade nu­clear ma­te­rial to build at least 10 bombs. North Korea says it has suc­cess­fully tested five nu­clear de­vices, and the DIA anal­y­sis com­pleted late last month sug­gested the North has far more nu­clear de­vices than pre­vi­ously thought.

Mr. Mat­tis said Mr. Kim “should take heed of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s uni­fied voice, and state­ments from gov­ern­ments the world over [that] agree [North Korea] poses a threat to global se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity.”

Some fi­nan­cial an­a­lysts also blamed the ris­ing war of words be­tween Washington and Py­ongyang for a sec­ond day of losses in stock mar­kets Wed­nes­day af­ter a string of record highs. The Dow Jones in­dus­trial av­er­age fell 36 points to close at 22,048 Wed­nes­day.

Mr. Trump’s threat­en­ing rhetoric on North Korea “is al­most en­tirely re­spon­si­ble for the pull­back,” said Randy Fred­er­ick, vice pres­i­dent of trad­ing and de­riv­a­tives for Charles Schwab.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

JUST FOR SHOW: De­spite North Korean blus­ter that it has the abil­ity to launch a nu­clear mis­sile at U.S. bases in the Pa­cific, and Pres­i­dent Trump’s heated re­sponse, diplo­mats and politi­cians coun­tered the threat of con­flict is overblown.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

In an ex­change of threats, Pres­i­dent Trump warned Py­ongyang of “fire and fury,” while the North’s mil­i­tary claimed Wed­nes­day that it was ex­am­in­ing plans for at­tack­ing Guam.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of De­fense James Mat­tis urged North Korea to “stand down its pur­suit of nu­clear weapons,” warn­ing that con­tin­ued ef­forts by Py­ongyang would force a U.S. re­sponse “that would lead to the end of its regime and the de­struc­tion of its peo­ple.”

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