U.S. President Donald Trump delivered another warning to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday that the U.S. is ready with a military response to any attack after a week of rising tension that has roiled global markets.
“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” Trump tweeted on Friday. In a subsequent retweet, Trump highlighted the presence of U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers stationed on the Pacific island of Guam, which have flown joint missions with Japanese and South Korean fighter jets in recent days.
North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency accused Trump earlier of “driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war.”
Trump has been increasing pressure on North Korea as the isolated regime in Pyongyang has continued to develop and refine its nuclear bomb and missile technology to pose a risk to the U.S. The president has vowed to unleash “fire and fury” on Kim’s regime, which has threatened to fire missiles toward Guam, a U.S. territory about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers) south-east of Pyongyang that is home to a strategic air and naval base.
But there were no immediate signs that Trump’s tweet signaled a change in the U.S. military posture. While the U.S. has long had the resources in the region to strike North Korea at short notice, it does not appear to be sending in more military hardware or troops as might be expected if preparing for a conflict. There has been no notice to U.S. civilian personnel to leave the region, and top military and diplomatic officials have continued with previously scheduled trips and meetings.
A White House national security official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the Pentagon has contingency plans for any crisis that are updated constantly to provide the president with options and that there was nothing new about the U.S. readiness stance.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday he’s ready to present Trump with military options “if they be needed,” but the U.S. is “gaining diplomatic results and I want to stay right there, right now.”
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After a week of tumult, financial markets began to stabilize. The S&P 500 Index rebounded from its steepest drop since May, the CBOE Volatility Index lost 7.2 percent, after Thursday’s 44 percent rise and Treasuries slipped .
The crisis has gripped much of the region. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Friday his government would back the U.S. if North Korea attacked. Japan moved missile interceptors into position after the Guam threat, the Nikkei newspaper reported. China, North Korea’s only major ally, called on both countries to avoid the “old road” of escalating hostilities.
“China hopes that related parties will speak and act with caution, doing more to alleviate the tense situation and enhance mutual trust,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement on Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday “the risks are very high” of war between the U.S. and North Korea. Russia and China have presented “proposals that seek to prevent the most serious conflict with a huge number of victims,” Lavrov said. “Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is starting to go too far.”
In the U.S., support for Trump’s tough talk on North Korea broke down along party lines.
Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who is now the Republican governor of Missouri, said Friday on Fox News, “I’m very, very glad to see the president and Secretary Mattis standing up strongly to these threats.”
Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said that while he doesn’t mind the escalating rhetoric, he believes Trump needs to more clearly lay out for the American people why it was in the U.S. interest to be concerned about the regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and how American defense systems were being deployed.
He said on MSNBC that he’d heard about constituents who had canceled a Hawaii vacation over concerns about a nuclear war breaking out, and suggested Trump address the country from the Oval Office.
“This is a moment the president needs to be very serious,” Kinzinger said, cautioning Trump not to be distracted by some other “shiny red ball of the day.” In the past several days, Trump has been in a public spat with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky over lawmakers’ failure overhaul the nation’s health-care system.
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On Thursday, 64 congressional Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that Trump’s statements on North Korea were “irresponsible and dangerous” and calling upon the administration to “publicly declare its agreement with the constitutional requirement that any preemptive attack on North Korea must be debated and authorized by Congress.”
Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell of California chastised Trump on CNN on Friday for remaining on a working vacation at his New Jersey golf course during the crisis. “He would be well served to go back to the White House to assemble his team, to talk to our allies -- we are going to need a lot of allies if we’re going to engage in military conduct with North Korea -- and also to continue to engage with China,” Swalwell said.
Some analysts expect the tensions to escalate in the coming days as both North and South Korea celebrate the Aug. 15 anniversary of the end of Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
The U.S. and South Korea are due to start joint military exercises from Aug. 21, while Japanese and U.S. military personnel have begun drills on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido that run through Aug. 28.
This most recent crisis was sparked, in part, by the Aug. 5 unanimous vote in the United Nations Security Council to impose new sanctions on the Kim regime in response to its nuclear and missile tests.
With assistance from Stepan Kravchenko, Andrey Biryukov, Eddie van der Walt and Jeremy Herron.