The FINANCIAL — The United States has warned North Korea that its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons could “lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”
The starkly worded warning issued by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis built on President Donald Trump’s assertions earlier in the day that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is unbeatable and he hopes he is never forced to use it.
“The [North Korean] regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and [it] would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates,” Mattis said, urging Pyongyang to “stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
Hours after Mattis’s statement, North Korea repeated its threat to target the Pacific island of Guam with intermediate-range ballistic missiles and said it was finalizing plans to launch four missiles over the islands of Japan and into the water 40 kilometers off Guam’s coast.
Pyongyang dismissed the U.S. warnings as a “load of nonsense” and said it could not negotiate with a U.S. president who it said was “bereft of reason.”
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” the official North Korean news agency quoted General Kim Rak Gyom of the Korean People’s Army as saying on August 10.
Kim said the Guam strikes would be “an effective remedy for restraining the frantic moves of the U.S. in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity.”
The latest exchange of threats came after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Americans to be calm and have “no concerns” that North Korea will succeed in striking U.S. soil, according to RFE/RL.
Tillerson, speaking to reporters shortly before arriving on a previously planned visit to Guam on August 9, said he didn’t believe there is “any imminent threat” from the rogue state located about 3,400 kilometers north of the island.
“Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson said.
The North Korean threat to attack Guam came hours after Trump warned Pyongyang that it would face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it threatened the United States again.
Tillerson said Trump was trying to send a strong message to North Korea. He said Pyongyang’s rhetoric had ratcheted up in the face of international opposition to its nuclear program.
“So I think…what the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said.
Meanwhile, Trump followed up his earlier warning by saying that he hoped the United States will not have to use its nuclear arsenal.
“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump wrote on Twitter on August 9.
“Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!” he tweeted.
Trump’s implicit threat was underscored by the wide circulation online on August 9 of a television interview with NBC he gave in 1999 where he advocated preemptive strikes using conventional weapons against North Korea’s missile and nuclear facilities if negotiations to rid the country of nuclear weapons did not succeed.
The rhetoric between the White House and Pyongyang has heated up dramatically after North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, taking a significant step toward its goal of developing a long-range missile capable of striking anywhere in the mainland United States.
In a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency August 9, a spokesman for North Korea’s army said that a strike by a medium- to long-range strategic ballistic missile could be launched toward Guam at any moment once leader Kim Jong Un made a decision.
The spokesman said the strike would aim to “contain the U.S. major military bases on Guam.” Guam is a critical outpost for the United States to launch military missions in the Asia-Pacific region.
North Korea also accused the United States of preparing a “preventive war,” which it said would turn into an “all-out war wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the U.S. mainland.”
The North Korean statement came after Trump, speaking at a news briefing on August 8 during his vacation in New Jersey, said that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.”
“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump said.
The UN Security Council on August 5 unanimously imposed new economic sanctions on North Korea, aimed at pressuring Pyongyang to end its nuclear program.
North Korea said the sanctions infringed on its sovereignty and warned that it was ready to give Washington a “severe lesson” with what it called its strategic nuclear force in response to any U.S. military action.
It says its ballistic missiles are a legitimate means of defense against perceived U.S. hostility and accuses Washington and Seoul of escalating tensions by conducting military drills.
The international reaction to the latest fiery exchange of statements between Pyongyang and Washington has been mixed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “troubled by the increase in confrontational rhetoric ” on North Korea, a spokesman said.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on August 9 that the “United States has said that all options are on the table. The Japanese government supports this attitude.”
Britain also praised Trump’s stance, with UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft telling reporters that London “stands shoulder to shoulder with the United States” in tackling the nuclear threat from North Korea.
French government spokesman Christophe Castaner said after a cabinet meeting that “the determination of the American president…[is] the same determination as any American president would have because they cannot accept that part of their territory could be the target of ballistic missile attacks.”
But Castaner later said that Paris is watching what’s going on with “concern” and is urging all sides “to act responsibly and to de-escalate” the situation.
Germany also urged restraint.
“We are watching the increasing rhetorical escalation regarding the Korean Peninsula with the greatest concern,” German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters. “That is why we call on all sides to use restraint.”
Schaefer said Germany was convinced that a “military option” could not be “the answer in the quest for a nuclear-weapon-free Southeast Asia.”
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that Moscow hoped the United States “keeps calm and refrains from any moves that would provoke another party to actions that might be dangerous.”
China, North Korea’s closest ally, called for calm and restraint in a “highly complicated and sensitive” standoff.
“We hope all relevant parties speak cautiously and move prudently, stop provoking each other, avoid further escalating the situation and strive to return to the correct track of dialogue and negotiations as soon as possible,” the Foreign Ministry said.
With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters