Tuesday | August 22, 2017
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Trump doubles down on ‘fire and fury’ vow as wargames near

SEOUL, South Korea — Not backing down, President Donald Trump warned Kim Jong Un’s government on Thursday to “get their act together” or face extraordinary trouble, and suggested he had been too mild when he vowed to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it continued to threaten the U.S.

“Maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said, in the latest U.S. salvo in an escalating exchange of threats between the nuclear-armed nations.

A day after North Korea laid out plans to strike near Guam with unsettlingly specificity, there was no observable march toward combat, despite the angry rhetoric from both sides. Still, the stage is set for new confrontation soon.

U.S. and South Korean military officials plan to move ahead with large-scale exercises later this month that North Korea, now finalizing plans to launch a salvo of missiles toward Guam, claims are a rehearsal for war.

The exercises are an annual event, but come as Pyongyang says it is readying a plan to fire off four Hwasong-12 missiles toward the U.S. island territory and major military hub. The plan would be sent to Kim for approval just before or as the U.S.-South Korea exercises begin.

Called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the exercises are expected to run from Aug. 21-31 and involve tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops on the ground and in the sea and air. Washington and Seoul say the exercises are defensive in nature and crucial to maintaining a deterrent against North Korean aggression.

The exercises were scheduled well before tensions began to rise over Trump’s increasingly fiery rhetoric and North Korea’s announcement of the missile plan, which would be its most provocative launch yet.

Trump declined to say whether the U.S. is considering a pre-emptive military strike as he spoke to reporters Thursday before a briefing with his top national security advisers at his New Jersey golf resort.

The president insisted the North had been “getting away with a tragedy that can’t be allowed.”

“North Korea better get their act together, or they are going to be in trouble like few nations have ever been in trouble,” Trump said, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence. Accusing his predecessors of insufficient action, Trump said it was time somebody stood up to the pariah nation.

Though tensions have been building for months amid new missile tests by the North, the pace has intensified since the U.N. Security Council on Saturday passed sweeping new sanctions Trump had requested. The sanctions prompted the new heated volley of rhetoric.

After the North announced its plans to aim missile tests near Guam — home to about 7,000 troops and 160,000 people — U.S. allies Japan and South Korea quickly vowed a strong reaction if it followed through.

Trump echoed that threat Thursday, insisting if North Korea took any steps to attack Guam, Pyongyang’s leaders would have reason to be nervous.

“Things will happen to them like they never thought possible, OK?” Trump said. He did not specify what they might be.

Trump also said he would soon announce a request for a budget increase of “billions of dollars” for anti-missile systems.

Military activity on the Korean Peninsula will rise in any case because of the U.S.-South Korean exercises. Officials in Seoul confirmed Friday that the exercises are expected to begin without any delays, but refused to provide further details. Along with a bigger set of maneuvers held every spring, the exercises are routinely met by strong condemnation and threats of countermeasures from North Korea.

The country conducted its fifth nuclear test just days after last year’s Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercises concluded. While tensions typically spike around the dates of the exercises, the situation generally calms afterward.

The heightened military activity is a concern this time because it could increase the possibility of a mishap or an overreaction of some sort by either side that could spin into a more serious escalation. That possibility is made even more acute by the lack of any means of official communication across the Demilitarized Zone.

 

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