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As US sends mixed signals, North Korea plans strikes near Guam

North Korea dismissed Donald Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” as a “load of nonsense”.

world Updated: Aug 10, 2017 23:52 IST
Yashwant Raj
A rally in support of North Korea's stance against the US at Pyongyang’s Kim Il-Sung square on August 9. 2017.
A rally in support of North Korea's stance against the US at Pyongyang’s Kim Il-Sung square on August 9. 2017.(AFP)

North Korea on Thursday dismissed US President Donald Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” as a “load of nonsense” and announced outlines of a plan to launch missile strikes near the US territory of Guam.

The plan, which will be ready for leader Kim Jong Un’s consideration by mid-August, will involve firing four Hwasong-12 mid-range ballistic missiles that will “fly 3,356.7 km … and hit the waters 30 to 40 km away from Guam, North Korea’s military said in a statement.

The statement, attributed to Gen Kim Rak Gyom — the head of the country’s strategic forces — was replete with the usual North Korean bluster and invectives. It also said dialogue was not possible with Trump, who was referred to as a “guy bereft of reason”, with the statement saying that “only absolute force can work on him”.

But this show of force may not go unanswered by the United States, which, experts have said will view them as a direct threat. Guam, which is closer to North Korea than US mainland, is home to home to about 163,000 people and US naval and air bases.

Trump, who is on a working vacation at his golf club in New Jersey, did not respond to the latest statement, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told reporters on Thursday that “nothing has changed in the president’s thinking”, adding that Trump has “made clear how he feels on that front”.

On Monday, Trump stunned his aides, allies and the world when he had warned North Korea that further threats from it will be “met with the fire and the fury like the world has never seen”. He had said that Kim Jong Un “has been very threatening beyond a normal state”, though he refrained from naming North Korea’s supreme leader.

Even as aides were blindsided by this sudden rhetoric, Trump tweeted the next day about America’s nuclear power being “far stronger and more powerful than ever before”, seemingly putting the nuclear option on the table without as much as a detailed preceding discussion.

On Wednesday, Huckabee Sanders said national security adviser John Kelly and his team were “well aware of the tone of the statement of the president prior to delivery”. But, “the words were his own”.

Though, she hastened to add, “The tone and strength of the message were discussed beforehand. They [Gen Kelly and others] were clear the president was going to respond to North Korea’s threats following the sanctions with a strong message in no uncertain terms.”

The day after Trump’s remarks, his secretary of state Rex Tillerson sought to dial down the rhetoric. He said Trump was only try to address Kim Jong Un in language he would understand. But, he added, “I think Americans should sleep well at night … I have no concerns about this particular rhetoric over the last few days.”

But James Mattis, the defence secretary, dialled up the rhetoric once again, telling North Korea to “stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons” and “cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people”. But experts noted the lack of military build up to back up the talk of war and destruction.

In the end, the signals coming out of the Trump administration appeared mixed, and North Korea military responded to them, and Mattis’s remarks, with insults hurled at Trump and an announcement of a detailed plan to strike “near” Guam.