BEDMINSTER, N.J. (AP) - President Donald Trump on Friday issued another warning of swift and forceful retaliation against nuclear North Korea, declaring the U.S. military “locked and loaded.” He said the isolated nation’s leader “will regret it fast” if he takes any action against U.S. territories and allies.
The latest threat appeared to draw another red line that would trigger a U.S. attack and for a fourth day in a row ratcheted up a rhetorical standoff between the two nations. 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.
Speaking to reporters from his New Jersey golf resort, Trump declined to explain precisely what he meant by the boast of military readiness. He brushed away calls for caution from world leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel. And he directly called out Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, as a destabilizing force who should not be allowed to continue his course.
“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 said.
The compounding threats came in a week in which the longstanding tensions between the U.S. and the communist country seemed to abruptly boil 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 target Guam, a tiny U.S. territory some 2,000 miles from Pyongyang.
Trump offered reassurance to Guam. “I feel that they will be very safe, believe me,” Trump told reporters Friday, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at his side.
Tough talk aside, The Associated Press reported Friday that 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, 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.
Still, Trump on Friday sought to project military strength. He also spoke of pursuing more sanctions on North Korea.
He tweeted: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
Trump 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, are not necessarily indicators of a new, more aggressive posture. “Fight tonight” has long been the motto of U.S. forces in South Korea to show they are always ready for combat on the Korean Peninsula.
U.S. officials insist there have been no new significant movement of troops, ships, aircraft or other assets to the region other than what has already been long planned for previously scheduled exercises.
American and South Korean officials said they would move forward later this month with the exercises, which North Korea claims are a rehearsal for war.
All the war talk in recent days has alarmed international leaders.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, estimated the risk of a military conflict between the U.S. and North Korea as “very high,” and said Moscow was deeply concerned.
“When you get close to the point of a fight, the one who is stronger and wiser should be the first to step back from the brink,” Lavrov said Friday.