WASHINGTON – North Korea’s military leadership is fast approaching a self-imposed mid-August deadline to present its marshal and supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, with plans to fire missiles into the waters around the US territory of Guam – a detailed threat of intentional provocation that has brought the region to the point of crisis.
US President Donald Trump spoke with the governor of Guam on Friday, vowing to protect the territory should North Korea follow through with its public plan. A senior general within North Korea’s leadership specified last week that four missiles would be fired into seas just short of the island – home to 163,000 American citizens and two US military bases – upon Kim’s approval, as a message to Washington of its willingness to engage.
Trump responded with an exceptional threat: Pyongyang would incur “fire and fury” the likes of which the world has never before seen, said the president. In the days since that threat was issued, Trump has doubled down, meeting with his national security staff to discuss ways to ameliorate the crisis or else confront the North militarily.
The crisis amounts to the most direct threat of military confrontation between North Korea and the US since a brutal war on the peninsula ended in an armistice along the demilitarized zone in 1953. North Korea has since developed a nuclear weapons program, and US intelligence agencies now believe the communist regime is close to perfecting a delivery system for those weapons that can reach the continental United States.
Trump told Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo that tourism would boom on the island due to the attention it has received over the international crisis.
Trump told reporters on Thursday that he would respond if something happened “in Guam,” but did not address the North Korea’s more specific threat of striking around the perimeter of the island.
He also spoke by phone with China’s president, whom the Trump administration considers critical to the diffusion of the crisis. In a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said President Xi Jinping told Trump that a peaceful resolution was essential, and urged calm.
“Concerned parties must exercise restraint and avoid remarks and actions that escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula,” it cited Xi as saying.
In their phone call, Trump and Xi “agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behavior,” the White House said in a statement, and reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
It added the relationship between Trump and Xi was “extremely close” and “will hopefully lead to a peaceful resolution of the North Korea problem.”
Again referring to Kim, Trump said, “If he utters one threat… or if he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”
In remarks to reporters after a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Trump said the situation with North Korea was “very dangerous and it will not continue.
“We will see what happens,” Trump said. “We think that lots of good things could happen, and we could also have a bad solution.”
Russian and German leadership expressed concern in recent days over the president’s rhetoric, after he wrote on Twitter that the US is “locked and loaded” ahead of any action by the North. He later retweeted a message from US Pacific Command saying it was ready to “#FightTonight” on the Korean Peninsula, if need be.
A long-planned military exercise in the region, held by the US and South Korea, will proceed as planned, Pentagon officials said.