Trump Warning on North Korea: ‘Better Get Their Act Together’

U.S. leader issues fresh warning to Pyongyang over nuclear and missile programs

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President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before a security briefing at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. Evan Vucci, AP
Trump: Maybe ‘Fire and Fury’ Comments Weren’t Tough Enough
President Donald Trump on Thursday said his ‘fire and fury’ comments from earlier in the week may not have been tough enough. Photo: Getty

Updated Aug. 10, 2017 11:50 p.m. ET

President Donald Trump, facing defiance from North Korea and resistance from China after his threat to unleash “fire and fury” at Pyongyang, said Thursday that his statement “maybe wasn’t tough enough” and warned of more to come.

Mr. Trump rejected criticisms that his words had been too inflammatory, repeated his exhortation to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to stop issuing threats and vowed to invest billions of dollars more in missile defense.

“They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries,” Mr. Trump said at his New Jersey golf course, referring to North Korea’s threats. “So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”

Asked what statement would be tougher, Mr. Trump said: “Well, you’ll see. You’ll see.”

The president’s comments escalated an exchange of threats between the U.S. and North Korea that have rattled markets and unnerved world leaders concerned about a nuclear-armed confrontation. U.S. stocks fell by nearly 1% on Thursday, for a third straight session.

Mr. Trump pledged to ease his stance on trade with China if Beijing offers more help on North Korea. He said the U.S. loses hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China. “It’s not going to continue like that,” Mr. Trump said. “But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade.”

The war of words with Pyongyang—which responded to Mr. Trump’s latest comments Friday morning local time by saying U.S. “would suffer a shameful defeat and final doom” if it persisted in threatening the country—lays bare the U.S.’s choices.

Some argue the U.S. at this stage must tolerate North Korea as a nuclear power and try to manage it, as the U.S. did with the Soviet Union and China before it, because a war would be catastrophic. Others argue that would be a dangerous approach, leaving the U.S. and its allies vulnerable, and potentially allowing Mr. Kim to extend his influence in the region by threatening nuclear strikes.

Mr. Trump’s more aggressive approach to North Korea has won plaudits among supporters who saw previous administrations as too soft on Pyongyang and think China’s leadership will cooperate on North Korea if faced with a U.S. president willing to pursue military action.

But China’s state media has criticized Mr. Trump’s fiery rhetoric and its government has urged restraint. And Mr. Trump’s critics say the U.S. president runs a risk of alienating the Chinese leadership and stumbling into a war with threats and ultimatums.

More than 60 House Democrats, in a letter on Thursday addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said: “These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda.”

The escalation began earlier in the week after Pyongyang defied pressure from United Nations sanctions, rejected American entreaties to consider talks and threatened to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. if militarily provoked. Mr. Trump responded with his warning that the country to stop making threats or face “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The exchanges have overshadowed a U.S. diplomatic effort that led to the unanimous passage of the sanctions at the U.N. last weekend and continued with Mr. Tillerson’s visit to Asia this week. Mr. Trump’s threats have drowned out the more conciliatory rhetoric of Mr. Tillerson, who has said Washington doesn’t seek regime change and wants to pressure North Korea into disarmament talks.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis sought to draw attention to those efforts on Thursday, emphasizing that the U.S. wants a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis. Mr. Mattis, speaking in California after Mr. Trump, said the diplomatic efforts were showing results and warned that war would be catastrophic.

In his Thursday remarks, Mr. Trump said negotiations between Pyongyang and previous U.S. administrations on nuclear disarmament had proven fruitless. While he cheered sanctions passed by the U.N., he questioned whether they would work. “Probably, it will not be as effective as a lot of people think it can be, unfortunately,” he said.

If diplomatic efforts to pressure North Korea into disarmament talks fail, the White House will face a policy question dreaded by previous administrations: Is it better to accept a North Korea capable of hitting the U.S. with nuclear arms or risk military actions on the Korean Peninsula and the outbreak of war?

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. Photo: AP

Mr. Trump declined to say whether his administration was considering a pre-emptive strike on North Korea to roll back the country’s nuclear program, after his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, voiced the possibility of “preventive war” last weekend.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear weapons tests since 2006, but the country long lacked a demonstrated ability to carry those weapons to U.S. cities. That changed in July when North Korea conducted two intercontinental ballistic missile tests, putting North America within range.

U.S. officials believe North Korea possesses a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop such a missile. But the country has yet to demonstrate that the warhead can withstand travel on the missile through the earth’s atmosphere.

Mr. Trump on Thursday said Americans should be calm despite the tensions. “The people of our country are safe. Our allies are safe,” he said. “And I will tell you this: North Korea better get their act together, or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world, OK?”

Mr. Trump also attacked Mr. Kim directly. “He has disrespected our country greatly. He has said things that are horrific. And with me he’s not getting away with it​,” Mr. Trump said, noting that the North Korean leader and his family had evaded consequences previously. The president warned: “This is a whole new ballgame.”

U.S. policy makers are divided over whether it’s worth risking the outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula to prevent Pyongyang from obtaining nuclear weapons that can strike U.S. cities.

The alternative is to live with a North Korean regime harboring such weapons and shift to a Cold War-style standoff. The U.S. would then focus diplomatic efforts on pressuring the regime to disarm, while vowing to destroy North Korea if it ever used a nuclear weapon or transferred them abroad.


Policy experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies say it probably would go something like this:

  • First: The Space-Based Infrared System—something of a satellite system would likely detect any initial blast from a missile launch from within North Korea.
  • Second: Three radar systems in South Korea and Japan then could angle up toward the sky to see what types of missiles have launched and get a better read on their trajectory.
  • Third: The U.S. could then use that information when using missile-interceptor systems to attempt to shoot down a missile.

The Obama administration studied the specter of military action to stymie North Korea’s progress but found war on the Korean Peninsula could lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties in South Korea, Japan and elsewhere, former national security adviser Susan Rice said Thursday in an op-ed in the New York Times .

“[W]ar is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded,” Ms. Rice wrote. “History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea—the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.”

In its public statements, however, the Trump administration has disagreed. For months, Mr. Trump and his top advisers have said that the administration refuses to abide a North Korea in possession of nuclear weapons that can hit the U.S.—a red line that American officials predict Mr. Kim will soon cross, absent a diplomatic breakthrough.

Mr. McMaster reiterated the position in an interview Saturday on MSNBC, saying that a North Korea with nuclear weapons that can threaten the U.S. is “intolerable from the president’s perspective.”

Christopher Hill, former senior U.S. diplomat in both Republican and Democratic administrations, agreed the program must be stopped. He characterized any approach that accepts a North Korea with nuclear capabilities as a mistake that will help Pyongyang drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.

He warned that North Korea could attack South Korea and then threaten to launch a nuclear attack on an American city if U.S. forces came to South Korea’s defense. That would force Washington to choose between defending the homeland and its ally, he said.

Mr. Hill said it’s unclear whether a military strike would retard the North Korean program. “There needs to be much more exploration of the space between war and peace, whether cyber or other efforts to sabotage the program,” he said. “I think that offers a more fruitful approach.”

Already, the Central Intelligence Agency has established a special North Korea mission center. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon last month that the agency is looking at all its activities to tackle the North Korea threat, including covert operations. ​

The U.S. military understands the consequences of using force to stop the advance of North Korea’s program are too grave, said Robert Einhorn, former State Department special adviser for​nonproliferation and arms control under the Obama administration. He said the military realizes the U.S. will likely have no choice but to tolerate the situation and focus on preventing North Korea from intimidating or attacking the U.S. and its allies.

“The best outcome is what the Trump administration is trying to do, which is to impose irresistible pressures on North Korea until it recognizes that it has to abandon its nuclear and missile programs altogether and soon,” Mr. Einhorn said. “But I believe it’s not going to happen, it’s not realistic. Also I don’t believe preventive military action is realistic, nor is regime change at this point realistic.”

He said the two most practical and realistic approaches, should the current round of diplomacy fail, are to pursue a phased plan to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, starting with certain interim limitations, and “a long-term strategy of pressure, deterrence and containment.”

Write to Paul Sonne at and Louise Radnofsky at

Appeared in the August 11, 2017, print edition as ‘Trump Steps Up Rhetoric.’


From FT (Financial Times)

By Shawn Donnan and Katrina Manson in Washington

Donald Trump stepped up his threats against North Korea on Thursday, declaring that he may not have been “tough enough” in his earlier warning to Pyongyang that the US would deploy “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if the country did not abandon its nuclear ambitions.
“If anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough,” Mr Trump told reporters ahead of a national security briefing at his New Jersey golf club, where he is on what the White House says is a working vacation. But he also said his administration would “always consider negotiations”.
After the remarks, the 10-year Treasury yield dipped 4 basis points to a two-month low of 2.2 per cent as investors sought the safety of US government debt. The S&P 500 ended down 1.45 per cent at a one-month low of 2,438. .
Investors moved out of Asian stocks at a quicker pace, and Korea’s won came under mounting pressure on the currencies markets. Seoul’s Kospi fell a further 1.7 per cent, taking its decline over the week to 3.5 per cent and leaving the index back at a level last seen in May. The Hang Seng fell 1.8 per cent in Hong Kong to an 11-session low.
Mr Trump’s stepped-up rhetoric came as concerns grow across Asia and among many in the Washington foreign policy establishment that the US president’s escalating rhetoric is raising the possibility of conflict on the Korean peninsula. North Korea, which is seeking to develop a nuclear missile that could reach the US, rose to the bait, escalating its own rhetoric and making retaliatory threats.
Tension between the two countries is traditionally heightened in August as the US conducts joint military exercises with South Korea, which Pyongyang views as a direct threat.
North Korea better get their act together or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
In a statement issued on KCNA, its state news agency, North Korea said the US “would suffer a shameful defeat and final doom if it persists in extreme military adventure, sanctions and pressure”.
The warning, which was issued on Thursday ahead of Mr Trump’s comments, is in line with verbose threats it has made in the past to “mercilessly” wipe out the US.
“This is standard fare for North Korea,” said Jenny Town at the US-Korea Institute, but she warned Mr Trump was “egging” the situation on, saying his repeated threats play into North Korea’s hands by convincing it of the need for nuclear deterrent.
The US is attempting to squeeze North Korea’s economy in an effort to change its direction.
It secured the passage of the strongest UN economic sanctions yet against the nuclear aspirant at the weekend, banning exports worth $1bn a year. Officials say it will take “some time” for those to bite, however, raising questions over why Mr Trump is needlessly upping the ante before they have a chance to act.
In a separate encounter with reporters after that meeting Mr Trump said Kim Jong Un had “disrespected our country greatly” and for the first time responded directly to threats North Korea had made towards the Pacific territory of Guam, home to a major US base.
“[If] he does something in Guam it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before what will happen in North Korea,” Mr Trump said.
“It’s not a dare. It’s a statement. He’s not going to go around threatening Guam and he’s not going to threaten the United States.”
The president on Thursday also defended his administration from charges that it had issued mixed messages on North Korea after Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, played down fears that any war was imminent.
“There were no mixed messages,” Mr Trump said.
“The people of our country are safe. Our allies are safe. And I will tell you this, North Korea better get their act together or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world.”
US secretary of defence Jim Mattis this week also made his strongest comments yet against North Korea, saying it should be wary of actions that “would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people”.
On Thursday Mr Mattis, who has said war with North Korea would be “catastrophic”, visited a nuclear submarine base in the west of the country, a reminder of his warning that the nuclear aspirant would be grossly outmatched by the US.
“The American effort is diplomatically led, it has diplomatic traction, it is gaining diplomatic results and I want to stay right there right now,” Mr Mattis said.
He added: “The tragedy of war is well-enough known it doesn’t need another characterisation beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic.”
Mr Trump also urged again China to do its part in reining in the regime in Pyongyang, which depends on its relationship with Beijing for its economic survival.
“I think China can do a lot more . . . And I think China will do a lot more. Look, we have trade with China. We lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China. They know how I feel. It’s not going to continue like that. But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade.”
The Trump administration was poised last week to launch a new investigation into China’s intellectual property regime with the view of increasing its trade pressure on Beijing, which now has a surplus worth more than $300bn annually with the US.
It chose, however, to delay that move as it sought China’s backing for new UN sanctions that were approved by the Security Council last weekend.

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One Response to “Trump Warning on North Korea: ‘Better Get Their Act Together’”

  1. williwash Says:

    Reblogged this on WilliWash.

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