Washington, UNITED STATES | AFP | President Donald Trump on Thursday hardened his warning that North Korea would face “fire and fury” if it kept threatening the US, saying maybe that tough talk “wasn’t tough enough.”
However, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis later appeared to step back from the dire rhetoric of his boss. He described the prospect of war as “catastrophic” and added that diplomatic efforts to solve the North Korea nuclear crisis were yielding results.
Trump in his new remarks Thursday also warned North Korea it should be “very, very nervous” of the consequences if it even thinks of attacking US soil, after nuclear-armed Pyongyang said it was readying missile launch plans on the Pacific territory of Guam.
The Republican billionaire dismissed any criticism of his “fire and fury” warning of Tuesday, citing threats made by the regime of Kim Jong-Un to both Washington and its allies.
“It’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said.
Trump also said China, Pyongyang’s main diplomatic ally, could “do a lot more” to pressure Kim to end his country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Trump’s comments, made from his golf club retreat in New Jersey, came after the North announced a detailed plan to send four missiles over Japan and towards Guam, where some 6,000 US soldiers are based.
Pyongyang said the scheme to target the island, a key US military outpost in the western Pacific, was intended to “signal a crucial warning” as “only absolute force” would have an effect on a US leader “bereft of reason.”
Trump fired back with gusto.
“If North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about an attack on anybody we love or we represent or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous,” he told reporters, with Vice President Mike Pence at his side.
“And they should be… because things will happen to them like they never thought possible.”
– ‘Better get their act together’ –
Relations between Washington and Pyongyang have been tense for months, in the wake of the North’s repeated missile tests, including two successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launches in July.
Those launches put the US mainland in range. Some experts believe the second missile could potentially reach New York.
The escalating saber-rattling took an unexpected turn Tuesday when Trump seemed to borrow from the North’s arsenal of rhetoric and said it faced “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the US.
That prompted a defiant Pyongyang to threaten the missile attack on Guam.
The war of words has set off diplomatic alarm bells, and raised fears of a miscalculation that could lead to catastrophic consequences on the Korean peninsula and beyond.