Trump says ‘fire and fury’ threat not tough enough

Tiller­son tries to tamp down fears but weighs mil­i­tary so­lu­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUÑOZ

Pres­i­dent Trump ratch­eted up his harsh rhetoric against North Korea on Thurs­day, es­ca­lat­ing a war of words with Py­ongyang over its nu­clear mis­sile pro­gram and re­fus­ing to rule out a pre-emp­tive mil­i­tary ac­tion against the North if it car­ries out a threat against U.S. forces in Guam.

Af­ter a brief­ing with his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers, Mr. Trump passed up sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties to lower the tem­per­a­ture in the cri­sis, which has jolted states across East Asia. At one point, he in­sisted that his threat ear­lier this week to de­liver “fire and fury” on the regime of Kim Jong-un if it did not back down “wasn’t tough enough.”

“They’ve been do­ing this to our coun­try for a long time, for many years,” he told re­porters, re­fer­ring to the North’s re­peated provo­ca­tions via its nu­clear pur­suits in the face of a slew of U.S. and in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions. “It’s about time that some­body stuck up for the peo­ple of this coun­try and for the peo­ple of other coun­tries.”

Speak­ing to re­porters at his golf course in Bed­min­ster, New Jersey, where he is tak­ing a work­ing va­ca­tion, Mr. Trump said, “North Korea bet­ter get their act to­gether, or they’re go­ing to be in trou­ble like few na­tions ever have been in trou­ble in this world.”

Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son this week ap­peared to be try­ing to ease fears of an im­mi­nent mil­i­tary clash, but the Pen­tagon con­firmed that it is con­sid­er­ing mil­i­tary so­lu­tions to the North Korean chal­lenge.

Although many in Congress have slammed Mr. Trump’s force­ful lan­guage in re­cent days, oth­ers, in­clud­ing Sen. Marco Ru­bio, Florida Repub­li­can, have come to the pres­i­dent’s de­fense and said North Korea bears the blame for es­ca­lat­ing the cri­sis.

Py­ongyang’s ac­cel­er­ated ef­forts to de­velop a minia­ture nu­clear bomb and the mis­siles to de­liver it as far as the U.S. main­land, in the face

of strin­gent op­po­si­tion and sanc­tions from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, have crossed a dan­ger­ous thresh­old over the past sev­eral weeks, prompt­ing threats of re­tal­i­a­tion and pre-emp­tion from the White House.

Two suc­cess­ful tests of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile sys­tem in July, cou­pled with re­ports that Py­ongyang has mas­tered the tech­nol­ogy to fit a small nu­clear war­head atop those mis­siles, prompted Mr. Trump to vow to rain “fire and fury” on the North if it did not stop threat­en­ing the U.S.

On Thurs­day, Mr. Trump went fur­ther, call­ing his warn­ing to Py­ongyang “not a dare but a state­ment.”

De­spite Mr. Trump’s tough talk, his ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues pub­licly to ad­vo­cate for a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to the bur­geon­ing cri­sis on the Korean Peninsula. But in­fight­ing among var­i­ous fac­tions in­side the White House over whether the North Korea prob­lem can be re­solved through ne­go­ti­a­tions or whether mil­i­tary ac­tion may be nec­es­sary has mud­dled the White House’s mes­sage to Py­ongyang.

Although the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil voted 15-0 to im­pose puni­tive new sanc­tions on North Korea, U.N. Sec­re­taryGen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res said through a spokesman that he was trou­bled by the bel­liger­ent tone from all sides in the con­fronta­tion.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Du­jar­ric said Mr. Guter­res “wel­comes all ini­tia­tives that will help de-es­ca­late the ten­sions and a re­turn to diplo­macy.”

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis told re­porters that the Pen­tagon has drafted a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to North Korea’s ac­tions but stressed re­peat­edly that the Pen­tagon fa­vors a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion.

“The Amer­i­can ef­fort is diplo­mat­i­cally led, has diplo­matic trac­tion and is gain­ing diplo­matic re­sults,” Mr. Mat­tis told re­porters Thurs­day. “And I want to stay right there right now. The tragedy of war is well enough known. It does not need an­other char­ac­ter­i­za­tion be­yond the fact that it would be cat­a­strophic.”

In Bed­min­ster, Mr. Trump de­nied that his ad­vis­ers were di­vided over how to han­dle a prob­lem that has be­dev­iled U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions stretch­ing back decades.

“To be hon­est, Gen. Mat­tis may have taken it a step be­yond what I said,” Mr. Trump told re­porters, adding that his ad­min­is­tra­tion would re­main open to ne­go­ti­a­tions with Py­ongyang if the North gives up its threat­en­ing nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams.

Mil­i­tary so­lu­tion

Mr. Mat­tis re­mained largely mum on de­tails of that mil­i­tary so­lu­tion, which the­o­ret­i­cally would curb Py­ongyang’s ef­forts to de­velop a nu­clear-ca­pa­ble bal­lis­tic mis­sile ar­se­nal, ex­cept to say that any mil­i­tary op­tion would in­volve a num­ber of re­gional pow­ers in the Pa­cific.

Any war plan is com­pli­cated by the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of U.S. al­lies South Korea and Ja­pan. Both are well within range of the North’s ar­se­nal, and both house large num­bers of Amer­i­can troops.

The North Korean mil­i­tary has re­sponded to Mr. Trump’s threats by say­ing it had com­pleted a war plan to si­mul­ta­ne­ously launch four non-nu­clear Hwa­song-12 rock­ets that could land in the wa­ters just off the U.S. ter­ri­tory of Guam, a plan that was now sit­ting on Kim Jong-un’s desk.

U.S. de­fense and na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have re­peat­edly touted the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Amer­i­can mis­sile de­fense shield over the past sev­eral weeks in the wake of North Korea’s mis­sile tests in July. Both flew higher and far­ther than any other long-range mis­siles tested by the regime. Mr. Trump has made

re­vamp­ing U.S. mis­sile de­fense sys­tems a top ob­jec­tive for the Pen­tagon since tak­ing of­fice.

Amer­i­can com­man­ders in July swiftly ini­ti­ated a pub­lic dis­play of mil­i­tary might, be­gin­ning hours af­ter North Korea’s sec­ond suc­cess­ful launch of its long-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile, cul­mi­nat­ing with a fly­over by a pair of nu­cle­arca­pable U.S. bombers over the peninsula.

The Guam-based su­per­sonic B-1 bombers, ac­com­pa­nied by a num­ber of South Korean fight­ers, per­formed a series of low-al­ti­tude passes over a key air

base near Seoul on July 30, in a mis­sion de­signed as a cal­cu­lated re­sponse to the North Korean mis­sile tests, of­fi­cials from U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand con­firmed at the time. Amer­i­can and South Korean forces also per­formed a series of live-fire drills us­ing the U.S. mis­sile de­fense weapons based in the re­gion.

Mr. Trump’s in­creas­ingly hawk­ish po­si­tion to­ward North Korea is based in part on ev­i­dence pro­vided by U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, which the pres­i­dent has rou­tinely lam­basted for its fail­ures in Iraq and else­where. But on Thurs­day,

Mr. Trump es­poused noth­ing but con­fi­dence in their find­ings on North Korea be­cause “it’s dif­fer­ent in­tel­li­gence.”

“I have Mike Pom­peo,” the pres­i­dent said of his hand-picked CIA di­rec­tor. “I have great con­fi­dence in him. That doesn’t mean I had con­fi­dence in his pre­de­ces­sor, OK? Which I didn’t, ac­tu­ally.” Mr. Trump was re­fer­ring to for­mer CIA Di­rec­tor John O. Bren­nan, with whom he has feuded.

Mr. Tiller­son has been the face and chief ad­vo­cate of the White House’s pub­lic push for diplo­macy on North

Korea, tout­ing the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s 15-0 vote this week to im­pose crip­pling eco­nomic sanc­tions on Py­ongyang. Wash­ing­ton’s ef­forts to get Rus­sia and China to back the sanc­tions is seen as a ma­jor diplo­matic win for the White House.

Mr. Trump flatly dis­missed claims of in­fight­ing within his na­tional se­cu­rity team over North Korea. “There are no mixed mes­sages,” he said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

An­der­sen Air Force Base in Guam is in the crosshairs of a threat to by North Korea. Pres­i­dent Trump on Thurs­day warned Kim Jong-un’s gov­ern­ment to “get their act to­gether.”

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