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Trump, Tillerson speak in different voices on North Korea row

Trump had warned North Korea to “not make any more threats to the United States”, adding, “They will be met with the fire and the fury like the world has never seen”.

world Updated: Aug 09, 2017 20:43 IST
Yashwant Raj
Donald Trump speaks about North Korea at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey on August 8, 2017.
Donald Trump speaks about North Korea at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey on August 8, 2017.(AFP)

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has sought to reassure Americans that a war was not imminent despite the escalating exchange of words with North Korea, which President Donald Trump ratcheted up significantly with his “fire and fury” remarks, called “bombastic” and ill-advised by critics.

“I think what the president was doing was sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jung Un would understand because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson told reporters, defending Trump’s remarks.

But he sought to play it down considerably, essaying a role he has tried before multiple times before — to either explain Trump or dial his rhetoric down.

Tillerson added, “I think Americans should sleep well at night … I have no concerns about this particular rhetoric over the last few days.”

Trump, however, kept up the tough talk on Wednesday. He retweeted a video of his “fire and fury” remarks and followed it up with posts about America’s nuclear arsenal, which he said was now “far stronger and more powerful than ever before”.

In remarks from his golf club in New Jersey, where he is on a long “working vacation”, Trump had warned North Korea to “not make any more threats to the United States”, adding, “They will be met with the fire and the fury like the world has never seen”.

He targeted Kim without naming him, saying “He has been very threatening beyond a normal state.”

Shortly after, North Korea shot back, saying it was reviewing plans to carry out missile attacks on Guam, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean. “The KPA (Korean People’s Army) Strategic Force is now carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the US major military bases on Guam including the Anderson Air Force Base,” a spokesman for the North Korean army said in a statement, carried by the country’s state news agency.

The spokesman added the plan will be put into effect when Kim decided.

There was no mention in the statement to Trump’s threat earlier in the day, which some critics said was too sharp and that he had gone too far too soon. Republican senator John McCain, who heads the Senate armed services committee, told a TV station, he takes exception to Trump’s comments “because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do”.

Senior Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein said the situation on the Korean peninsula was already volatile and Trump was not helping with “his bombastic comments”.

Shortly after the president’s remark US military announced two B-1 bombers flew from Guam over the Korean Peninsula as a part of “continuous bomber presence”, a US official said, in a sign of the strategic importance of the island.

Trump’s remarks followed news reports North Korean may have developed miniaturized nuclear warhead that could be carried inside missiles, and Pyongyang’s threat to teach the US “a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force”.

And that was in response, in a back-and-forth on for weeks now, to the UN security council slapping new sanctions on North Korea based on a US-led resolution — after two ICBM tests carried out by Pyongyang in one month.

North Korea said it was ready to use nuclear weapon against the US if it was attacked. “Should the US pounce upon the DPRK with military force at last, the DPRK is ready to teach the US a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force,” it said in a statement on Monday.

(With agency reports)