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Trump criticised for ‘fire and fury’ remarks on N. Korea

Nicholas Kamm, AFP | US President Donald Trump speaks at a meeting with administration officials on the opioid addiction crisis at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 8, 2017.
5 min

US President Donald Trump has been been criticised for his incendiary threats against North Korea amid concern about the inflammatory exchanges between Washington and Pyongyang.


Trump threated North Korea on Tuesday with “fire and fury” if it continues to develop its nuclear weapons programme. In response, North Korea’s military claimed it was examining plans for attacking Guam, a US-held Pacific island.

Former US diplomat Douglas Paal, now vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace thinktank in Washington, said Tuesday Trump should not enter into a war of words with Pyongyang.

“It strikes me as an amateurish reflection of a belief that we should give as we get rhetorically. That might be satisfying at one level, but it takes us down into the mud that we should let Pyongyang enjoy alone,” said Paal, who served as a White House official under previous Republican administrations.

"I don't believe they [North Korea] have the capability to [launch a nuclear attack on Guam] yet, and besides, why would they want to commit suicide by attacking a remote target like Guam?" asked Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear security expert and research professor of management, science and engineering at Stanford University.

"The real threat is stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula by misunderstanding or miscalculation,” Hecker said. “Inflammatory rhetoric on both sides will make that more likely. It's time to tone down the rhetoric."

'Not helpful'

Republican US Senator John McCain said Trump should tread cautiously when issuing threats to North Korea unless he is prepared to act.

"I take exception to the president’s comments because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do,” he said in a radio interview.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English said Wednesday that Trump's comments about North Korea are "not helpful" in an environment that is "very tense", warning that they are more likely to escalate the situation than to settle it.

English said that New Zealand has not raised concerns with the US administration about Trump's remarks, but would if his tone continued.

Trump boasts about US’s nuclear power

Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to say that the US’s nuclear power was stronger than ever but that he hoped not to use it.

“My first order as President was to renovate and modernise our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” he tweeted.

In a second tweet, he wrote: “Hopefully we will never have to use this power […].”

In a bid to calm the situation, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that he doesn't believe there is "any imminent threat" from North Korea, including to Guam.

"Americans should sleep well at night," he said, adding that they should "have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days".

EN NW SOT Rex Tillerson defends Trump 09082017 16:04

Mustn’t take the bait

Trump is “obviously not used to the propaganda that comes out of North Korea […] and then for us to kind of take the bait and get into a trading of insults, it escalates the atmosphere of tension,” said Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on US-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“It’s a trap that many presidents have fallen into in the past - the trap of making threats that they may or may not be able to follow through on,” Snyder continued. “President Clinton in the 1990's went to the DMZ [Demilitarised Zone] and said that if North Korea got nuclear weapons it would be the end of their state. And President Bush talked about the axis of evil, referring to North Korea."

The situation is more dangerous this time round, however, according to Mark Dubowitz, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonprofit group in Washington. “This is a more dangerous moment than faced by Trump’s predecessors,” Dubowitz told The New York Times.

“The normal nuanced diplomatic rhetoric coming out of Washington hasn’t worked in persuading the Kim regime of American resolve,” Dubowitz said. “This language underscores that the most powerful country in the world has its own escalatory and retaliatory options.”

Attack from North Korea 'looks unlikely'

But John Delury, a North Korea expert, said a North Korean attack or an American pre-emptive strike is unlikely.

Delury, associate professor of East Asian Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, sees North Korea's statement as a warning to Washington that its missiles could reach targets in the region, rather than one of an actual attack.

"Well, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say if North Korea was planning some kind of pre-emptive or surprise attack on Guam, we would not be reading about it in North Korean media," Delury said.

A US strike against North Korea would need the support of South Korea, according to Delury, because the North would likely retaliate against the South and its 600,000 troops.

"It's not something you can do without robust, full support from the South Korean government people, and there's absolutely no sign that South Korea will support military options with North Korea," Delury said.

Meanwhile, Zhang Liangui, a professor at the main training academy of China’s Communist Party's main training academy, said: “Trump said the US would take tough measures if North Korea fired off missiles, but it did not. This might make North Korea think that's just some verbal threat, so its attitude is getting tougher and tougher."

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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