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The Journal Gazette

  • What is believed to be a Hwasong 12 missile is paraded through Pyongyang, North Korea, in April. The country said this week it plans to fire four of the missiles into waters near the U.S. territory of Guam. (Associated Press)

Saturday, August 12, 2017 1:00 am

'Locked, loaded' on N. Korea

President warns Kim would 'regret it fast' if action taken

Associated Press

Also: Most Americans can't map N. Korea

Only 36 percent of Americans were able to correctly identify North Korea on a map in a recent Morning Consult survey. The experiment, as reported by the New York Times, found that there's a relationship between geographic knowledge and policy preferences. People who can locate North Korea are more likely to favor diplomatic ways to deal with the country's unruly regime: economic sanctions, for instance, or increasing pressure on the country's chief ally, China.

On the other hand, people who couldn't find the country were statistically more likely to favor doing things the old-fashioned way: by sending in ground troops. They were also more likely to say we should not do anything at all. It's worth pointing out, however, that this group still preferred diplomatic approaches to North Korea, they just did so by a significantly smaller margin than the people who could actually find the country.

– Washington Post

BEDMINSTER, N.J. – President Donald Trump on Friday issued fresh threats of swift and forceful retaliation against nuclear North Korea, declaring the U.S. military “locked and loaded” and warning that the communist country's leader “will regret it fast” if he takes any action against U.S. territories or allies.

The warnings came in a cascade of unscripted statements throughout the day, each ratcheting up a rhetorical standoff between the two nuclear nations. The president appeared to draw another red line that would trigger a U.S. attack against North Korea and “big, big trouble” for its leader, Kim Jong Un.

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.

“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 told reporters at his New Jersey golf resort.

Asked whether the U.S. was going to war, he said cryptically, “I think you know the answer to that.”

The compounding threats came in a week in which longstanding tensions between the countries risked abruptly boiling 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 lob missiles near Guam, a tiny U.S. territory some 2,000 miles from Pyongyang.

Tough talk aside, 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.

They haven't quelled tensions but could be a foundation for more diplomacy, 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.

Trump on Friday sought to project military strength, only dialing back slightly throughout the day.

He began with a morning tweet: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”

He 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, don't indicate a new, more aggressive posture. “Fight tonight” has long been the motto of U.S. forces in South Korea to show they're always ready for combat on the Korean Peninsula.

Trump declined to explain the boast of military readiness when asked by reporters at an event highlighting workforce development programs. He also brushed away calls for caution from world leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel.

“I don't see a military solution and I don't think it's called for,” Merkel said Friday, declining to say whether Germany would stand with the U.S. in a military conflict with North Korea. She called on the U.N. Security Council to continue to address the crisis.

“I think escalating the rhetoric is the wrong answer,” Merkel added.

“Let her speak for Germany,” Trump said, when asked about the comment. “Perhaps she is referring to Germany. She's certainly not referring to the United States, that I can tell you.”

By evening, after a briefing with top advisers and standing next to his secretary of state and U.N. ambassador, Trump suggested diplomacy could yet prevail.

“Hopefully it'll all work out,” Trump said. “Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump.”

The president said he intended to speak Friday evening with China's President Xi Jinping, whom he has pushed to pressure North Korea to halt a nuclear weapons program that is nearing the capability of targeting the United States.

Faced with perhaps his biggest international crisis as president, Trump has responded with an abundance of swagger and a lot of words. He's held a series of freewheeling press conferences with reporters, answering complex and delicate questions apparently off the cuff. On Friday, he veered from North Korea to comments on politics. He even suggested he would consider military action against Venezuela, puzzling his military planners.

Trump announced he planned to hold another press conference in Washington on Monday.

Behind the threats, U.S. officials insist there has been no new significant movement of troops, ships, aircraft or other assets to the region other than for long scheduled military exercises with South Korea.

American and South Korean officials said the exercises would happen as planned this month. North Korea claims they're a rehearsal for war.

As it is, the U.S. has a robust military presence in the region, including six B-1 bombers in Guam and Air Force fighter jet units in South Korea, plus other assets across the Pacific Ocean and in the skies above. Military options range from nothing to a full-on conventional assault by air, sea and ground forces. Any order by the president could be executed quickly.

The U.S.-South Korea exercises are an annual event, but they come as Pyongyang says it's readying a plan to fire off four medium-range missiles toward Guam, a U.S. territory and major military hub. The plan would be sent to Kim for approval just before or as the U.S.-South Korea drills begin.