No ‘Imminent Threat Of War’ With North Korea, Says US Secretary Of State

No ‘Imminent Threat Of War’ With North Korea, Says US Secretary Of State
August 09 15:29 2017 Print This Article

Rex Tillerson has sought to calm nerves in the wake of an exchange of aggressive rhetoric between Donald Trump and the North Korean regime, insisting there was no “imminent threat of war” and that Americans could “sleep well at night”.

The US secretary of state was talking to reporters on the way back to Washington from a tour of Asia hours after Trump had threatened to engulf North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” and Pyongyang responded by saying it was “carefully examining” a plan to carry out a missile strike on Guam, and create an “enveloping fire” around the US territory in the Pacific 3,400km (2,100 miles) from the Korean peninsula.

Tillerson’s plane was due to make a stop at Guam, which is home to a US military base that includes a submarine squadron, an airbase and a coastguard group, and the secretary of state said he had no plans to change his route.

“Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson defended Trump over his bellicose language, which shocked US allies and has been heavily criticised in the US and around the world as reckless.

“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong-un can understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the US unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies.”

 

While Tillerson was in the air, Trump posted on Twitter at 8am in Washington. His tone was not as heated as the threats of conflagration he issued on Tuesday from his New Jersey golf resort, but he did explicitly brandish his country’s nuclear weapons in a way his predecessors had generally avoided.

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

In fact, it was Barack Obama who approved the major overhaul and modernisation of the US arsenal, which is considerably smaller than it was at the height of the cold war, in the wake of a succession of arms controls treaties. The US and Russia are now at rough parity. The US has 6,800 warheads, while Russia has 7,000.

North Korea has carried out five nuclear tests since 2006, so it unquestionably has the capacity to create some form of nuclear bomb.

To function effectively, however, the bomb needs to be small enough to fit on to a missile. Some experts believe the North has already “miniaturised” its nuclear capability, while others believe the regime is still several years away from being able to do so. Japan’s defence ministry warned on 8 August that it was possible that Pyongyang had mastered miniaturisation.

North Korea would also need a reliable delivery system for any bomb. Its proven short- and medium-range missiles could reach South Korea and Japan. In July it test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles, placing US cities in range of potential attack, according to US experts.

Tillerson sought to steer his own remarks away from nuclear weapons and toward Washington’s diplomatic efforts to contain North Korea. He argued that the administration’s policy of increasing economic pressure, culminating in new UN sanctions agreed at the security council on the weekend, was beginning to pay off.

“The pressure is starting to show,” Tillerson said. “I think that’s why the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang is beginning to become louder and more threatening. Whether we’ve got them backed into a corner or not is difficult to say, but, diplomatically, you never like to have someone in a corner without a way for them to get out.”

He said Pyongyang could ease the pressure by entering into negotiations with the US, which he has said could come only after Kim Jong-un’s government suspended its missile tests and accepted that it would ultimately have to give up its nuclear weapons programme. Pyongyang, he said, would have to have “the right expectation of what those talks will be about”.

Guam’s governor, Eddie Calvo, on Wednesday attempted to reassure residents that there was “no threat” of a North Korean strike, but added that the island was prepared for “any eventuality”.

Calvo added: “Guam is American soil … We are not just a military installation.”

In an online video message, he said he had been told by the US defence and homeland security departments that there was no change in the threat level for his territory.

Guam, a 210 sq mile sovereign US territory in the western Pacific Ocean, is used by America as a strategic military base. Almost a third of its land is controlled by the US military and about 6,000 American troops are based there.

The island’s location, within range of North Korean medium- and long-range missiles, and military significance to the US make it a logical target for Pyongyang.

A Korean people’s army (KPA) spokesman said in a statement Wednesday that a plan would be put into practice as soon as the order to attack Guam was issued by the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

“The KPA strategic force is now carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium- to long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the US major military bases on Guam, including the Anderson air force base,” the spokesman said.

The state-run KCNA news agency quoted a second army spokesman accusing Washington of devising a “preventive war”, adding that any attempt to attack the North would provoke “all-out war, wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the US mainland”.

The US should cease its “reckless military provocation” against North Korea to avoid such a reaction, the spokesman added.

In response, South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, called for an overhaul of the country’s armed services, citing an “urgent” need to improve its ability to defend against North Korean missile attacks.

“I believe we might need a complete defence reform at the level of a rebirth, instead of making some improvements or modifications,” Moon told senior military officials, according to Yonhap news agency.

“Another urgent task now facing us is securing defence capabilities to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.”

The unification ministry, which handles cross-border relations, said the threat against Guam would damage attempts to improve inter-Korean ties. A ministry spokesman said the South was committed to dialogue and sanctions, and urged Pyongyang to end its provocations.

Beijing issued a brief foreign ministry statement on Wednesday calling on “all parties to avoid any words or actions that might escalate the situation”.

France and Germany also called on all sides to use restraint. “We are watching the increasing rhetorical escalation regarding the Korean Peninsula with the greatest concern,” the German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters.

Tensions in the region have risen since North Korea carried out two nuclear bomb tests last year and test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month. The UN security council responded last weekend by unanimously agreeing sanctions designed to deprive the regime of about US$1bn in hard currency.

North Korea’s bellicose language is causing anxiety in Japan. Its defence ministry warned on Tuesday that it was possible that Pyongyang had miniaturised its nuclear weaponry. A leaked US intelligence assessment also claimed the regime had successfully produced a miniaturised nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles.

Japanese fighters conducted joint air drills with US supersonic bombers near the Korean peninsula on Tuesday, Japan’s air self-defence forces said. A day earlier, two US B-1 bombers flew from Guam over the Korean peninsula as part of its “continuous bomber presence”, a US official said.

US security and defence officials in Guam, which is within range of North Korean medium- and long-range missiles, said there was no imminent threat to people there or elsewhere in the Northern Mariana Islands.

[Guardian UK]

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