BEDMINSTER, N.J. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump ratcheted up his rhetoric toward North Korea and its leader on Thursday, warning Pyongyang against attacking Guam or U.S. allies after it disclosed plans to fire missiles over Japan to land near the U.S. Pacific territory.
Trump took specific aim at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying, “He has disrespected our country greatly. He has said things that are horrific. And with me, he’s not getting away with it. He got away with it for a long time between him and his family. … This is a whole new ball game.”
North Korea’s army will complete the plans in mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land near Guam, when they will be ready for Kim’s order, state-run KCNA news agency said. The plans called for the missiles to land in the sea 30-40 km (18-25 miles) from Guam.
“I read about, ‘We’re in Guam by August 15th.’ Let’s see what he does with Guam. He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before, what will happen in North Korea,” Trump, without offering specifics, told reporters in New Jersey.
“It’s not a dare. It’s a statement,” Trump said. “He’s not going to go around threatening Guam. And he’s not going to threaten the United States. And he’s not going to threaten Japan. And he’s not going to threaten South Korea.”
Tension in the region has risen since the reclusive communist country, which staged two nuclear bomb tests last year, launched two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July in defiance of world powers. Trump has said he will not allow Pyongyang to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States.
Far from toning down his words after saying on Tuesday that any threats by Pyongyang would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump said those remarks may have not gone far enough. “Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said.
Trump’s Tuesday comments had unnerved allies in the region and drew criticism from some politicians and foreign policy experts at home as needlessly pugnacious at a time when more measured language would be appropriate.
On Thursday in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he is on a working vacation, Trump also declared the U.S. nuclear arsenal “in tip-top shape, and getting better, and getting stronger.”
Asked if he would consider a pre-emptive strike against North Korea to deny it the ability to launch a nuclear attack against the United States, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens.”
Since taking office, Trump has reaffirmed a commitment to defend those countries against any North Korean threat.
“If North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love or we represent or our allies or us, they should be very, very nervous,” Trump added.
The United States and South Korea remain technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
Trump also said that new sanctions on North Korea approved by the U.N. Security Council on Aug. 5 that could slash by a third the country’s $3 billion annual export revenue probably “will not be as effective as a lot of people think it can be, unfortunately.” Trump praised China and Russia for backing the sanctions, but pressed Beijing to do more.
“I think China can do a lot more, yes. … And I think China will do a lot more,” Trump said.
Trump said the United States loses a lot of money on trade with China. “It’s not going to continue like that. But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade,” Trump added.
The tensions between North Korea and the United States spurred a broad market sell-off in U.S. stocks. The benchmark S&P 500 stock index .SPX closed with a 1.4 percent loss, marking the biggest one-day drop since May and registering just the third day all year that it closed with a loss of more than 1 percent.
Experts in the United States and South Korea said North Korea’s Guam plans ratcheted up risks significantly, since Washington was likely to view any missile aimed at its territory as a provocation, even if launched as a test.
If Pyongyang carries out its threatened show of force and launches missiles toward Guam, it would represent an unprecedented milestone in the already fraught relations between the United States and North Korea.
Trump said the United States would “always consider negotiations” with Pyongyang, but faulted three of his predecessors, Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, on their approach to North Korea.
The planned path of North Korea’s missiles would cross some of the world’s busiest sea and air traffic routes. The North Korean report said the missiles would cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan.
Guam, a tropical island more than 3,000 km (2,000 miles) to the southeast of North Korea, is home to about 163,000 people and a strategically located U.S. air base, Navy installation that includes a submarine squadron, a Coast Guard group and roughly 6,000 U.S. military service members.
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” KCNA said, calling Trump’s “fire and fury” comment “a load of nonsense.”
“The harsh rhetoric from Washington and Pyongyang during recent months has exacerbated an already confrontational relationship between our countries, and has probably eliminated any chance of good faith peace talks between the United States and North Korea,” Carter said.