Trump Boasts U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Is ‘More Powerful Than Ever’

President’s Twitter comments follow North Korea’s threat that it was considering firing missiles at Guam

People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program reporting with an image of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.
People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program reporting with an image of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday. PHOTO: LEE JIN-MAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Trump administration on Wednesday sought to keep pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions, while also moving to lessen the alarm President Donald Trump sparked a day earlier when he threatened Pyongyang with attack.

North Korea on Thursday morning local time said “sound dialogue is not possible” with Mr. Trump and repeated the threat it made a day earlier to fire at the U.S.’s Pacific territory of Guam, saying it could surround Guam in “enveloping fire” by launching four intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missiles at the island. Pyongyang said the missiles would land about 20 miles offshore and could be launched as soon as mid-August.

In a series of statements, U.S. administration officials took a step back from Mr. Trump’s threat to hit North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” but stood by a warning of serious retaliation should North Korean leader Kim Jong Un strike the U.S. or its allies.

Mr. Trump touted the strength of the American nuclear arsenal in a message Wednesday morning on Twitter from his resort in Bedminster, N.J., but he tempered his rhetoric from the previous day.

“Hopefully we will never have to use this power,” Mr. Trump wrote, “but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”

My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before….

…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!

The White House also said Mr. Trump was using his own words when he made the “fire and fury” remarks on Tuesday, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president discussed the “tone and strength” of the message beforehand with advisers including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

When asked if Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was aware of the remarks beforehand, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the secretary of state spoke with the president “after the fact.”

Sources: South Korea Ministry of National Defense, Union of Concerned Scientists (ranges); (bases)

Mr. Tillerson on Wednesday also looked to defuse the tension, stating that Mr. Trump’s “fire and fury” comment didn’t indicate the U.S. was moving toward a preemptive military attack on North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons and missile program.

The secretary of state instead championed the diplomatic effort to pressure North Korea into disarmament talks.

U.S. on North Korea: ‘We’re Speaking With One Voice’
At a State Department press conference on Wednesday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert responded to questions regarding President Donald Trump’s blunt warning to North Korea, in which he said the country’s threats would be “met with fire and fury.” Photo: AP

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006. What has worried U.S. officials most in recent months, though, is the rapid progression of the country’s program to field intercontinental ballistic missiles—long-range weapons that would allow North Korea to rocket warheads through the atmosphere to hit the continental U.S.

North Korea conducted its first ICBM test on July 4 and followed up with a second ICBM test on July 28 that experts said put the continental U.S. firmly in range of a strike.

U.S. officials believe the country has the capability to produce a nuclear warhead small enough to travel atop a missile. But they also think North Korea faces technical hurdles before such a warhead can withstand travel through the Earth’s atmosphere on an ICBM.

Mr. Tillerson said the president’s provocative message on Tuesday came in response to threatening statements Mr. Kim’s government made after the United Nations Security Council hit Pyongyang with new sanctions as punishment for its aggressive testing program.

“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,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Is North Korea Close to Being a Nuclear Weapons State?
Recent news reports indicate North Korea may have succeeded in building a nuclear warhead that can fit atop of one of the regime’s intercontinental missiles. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib examines what that means for the U.S., where President Donald Trump Tuesday threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury.” Photo: AP

The secretary of state also sought to reassure the public. “Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” Mr. Tillerson said in Guam on his way back from a trip to Asia, adding that an attack on the island by North Korea was not imminent.

The top diplomat’s efforts to dial down the rhetoric left it to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to keep up the pressure by reaffirming his confidence that the American military would prevail over Mr. Kim’s regime in the event of any attack on the U.S.

Mr. Mattis warned North Korea that it is “grossly overmatched” by the U.S. and its allies and “would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”

North Korea, Mr. Mattis said, needs to “stand down in in 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.”

North Korea, meanwhile, stepped up its rhetoric on Thursday morning.

“The U.S. president at a [golf] links again let out a load of nonsense about ‘fire and fury,’ failing to grasp the on-going grave situation,” the official statement said, making a reference to Mr. Trump’s warning against North Korea from the clubhouse of his golf​course on Tuesday. “This is extremely getting on the nerves of the infuriated Hwasong artillerymen.”

The tensions rattled financial markets world-wide on Wednesday, interrupting a stock-market rally fueled by corporate earnings and global economic growth. Declines in the U.S. were relatively mild, but they came during what has been a placid stretch for markets. The Stoxx Europe 600 fell 0.7%, while South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index fell 1.1%.

China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t address pressure from the Trump administration to be more active in reining in its ally in Pyongyang, calling the situation “complicated and sensitive.” It appealed for calm and an early resumption of dialogue, as it usually does when tensions climb on the Korean Peninsula.

In an editorial published online Wednesday night, the populist, state-owned tabloid Global Times condemned Mr. Trump’s remarks, saying they threatened to exacerbate matters.

“Now that President Trump has used a strong metaphor like ‘fire and fury,’ the North Korean nuclear train, going through a dark cave, will continue to run forward towards an even darker destination,” said the tabloid, which is published by the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily.

The alarming tenor of Mr. Trump’s remarks on Tuesday—which came two days after his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the U.S. was preparing for the possibility of “preventive war” with North Korea—overshadowed Mr. Tillerson’s efforts to lay the groundwork for negotiations with Pyongyang by pressuring the regime and gaining cooperation from China.

Before leaving for Asia last week, Mr. Tillerson announced in Washington that the U.S. wasn’t seeking a regime change in North Korea and didn’t plan to invade the country but that Pyongyang was presenting an unacceptable threat to Washington that required a response.

“We hope that at some point, they will begin to understand that and that we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek and the future economic prosperity for North Korea, but that will then promote economic prosperity throughout Northeast Asia,” Mr. Tillerson said Aug. 1.

Those comments contrasted starkly with suggestions about preemptive action that both Mr. Trump and Mr. McMaster raised subsequently.

“For those who do nuclear strategy, two parties that are talking about preemption simultaneously—that is the definition of instability,” said Stephan Haggard, director of the Korea-Pacific Program at the University of California San Diego.

The contrast led to a perception in some quarters that members of the Trump administration were reading from different scripts, risking a misinterpretation of the U.S.’s position in Pyongyang.

The State Department spokeswoman, Ms. Nauert, said that perception didn’t reflect reality. “I think the United States is all talking with one voice,” she said.

In brief comments to journalists during a trip to Seattle on Wednesday, Mr. Mattis said the goal of American policy isn’t merely to contain North Korea’s existing and growing nuclear program, but to roll it back and produce a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. That goal, he said, is shared by South Korea, China and Japan as well.

The distinction is important because some analysts have argued that the U.S. may have to accept and merely contain the nuclear program North Korea has built to this point, while others argue that the goal should be to roll it back.

Write to Paul Sonne at, Louise Radnofsky at and Jonathan Cheng at

Appeared in the August 10, 2017, print edition as ‘North Korea, U.S. Clash Sharpens.’


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2 Responses to “Trump Boasts U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Is ‘More Powerful Than Ever’”

  1. Brittius Says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius.

  2. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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