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Tillerson, In Guam, Urges Calm On North Korea, Says No Imminent Threat

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged calm after North Korea and President Donald Trump traded threats, saying Americans should have "no concerns."

Tillerson, speaking to reporters shortly before arriving on the U.S. Pacific island of Guam on August 9, said he doesn't believe there is "any imminent threat" after North Korea had said that it is "carefully examining" plans to launch a missile strike on the island.

"Americans should sleep well at night," Tillerson said.

The North Korean threat to attack Guam came hours after Trump warned Pyongyang that it would face "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if it threatened the United States again.

Tillerson said Trump was trying to send a strong message to North Korea. He said Pyongyang's rhetoric had ratcheted up in the face of international opposition to its nuclear program.

"So I think...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," Tillerson said.

Meanwhile, Trump followed up his earlier warning by saying that he hopes the United States will not have to use its nuclear arsenal.

"My first order as president was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before," Trump wrote on Twitter on August 9.

"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!" he tweeted.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued his own threat to North Korea on August 9, saying it "should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people."

"The DPRK regime's actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates," he also said in a statement.

The rhetoric between the White House and Pyongyang has heated up dramatically after North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, taking a significant step toward its goal of developing a long-range missile capable of striking anywhere in the mainland United States.

In a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency on August 9, a spokesman for North Korea's army said that a strike by a medium- to long-range strategic ballistic missile could be launched toward Guam at any moment once leader Kim makes a decision.

The spokesman said the strike would aim to "contain the U.S. major military bases on Guam." Guam is a critical outpost for the United States to launch military missions in the Asia-Pacific region.

North Korea also accused the United States of preparing a "preventive war" that it said would turn into an "all-out war wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the U.S. mainland."

The North Korean statement came after Trump, speaking at a news briefing on August 8 during his vacation in the U.S. state of New Jersey, said that "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States."

"They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen," Trump said.

TIMELINE: North Korea's Nuclear Weapons And U.S. Relations

The UN Security Council on August 5 unanimously imposed new economic sanctions on North Korea, aimed at pressuring Pyongyang to end its nuclear program.

North Korea said the sanctions infringed its sovereignty and warned that it was ready to give Washington a "severe lesson" with what it called its strategic nuclear force in response to any U.S. military action.

It says its ballistic missiles are a legitimate means of defense against perceived U.S. hostility and accuses Washington and Seoul of escalating tensions by conducting military drills.

The international reaction to the latest fiery exchange of statements between Pyongyang and Washington has been mixed.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was "troubled by the increase in confrontational rhetoric" on North Korea, a spokesman said.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on August 9 that the "United States has said that all options are on the table. The Japanese government supports this attitude."

Britain also praised Trump's stance, with UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft telling reporters that London "stands shoulder to shoulder with the United States" in tackling the nuclear threat from North Korea.

French government spokesman Christophe Castaner said after a cabinet meeting that "the determination of the American president...[is] the same determination as any American president would have because they cannot accept that part of their territory could be the target of ballistic-missile attacks."

But Castaner later said that Paris was watching what's going on with "concern" and was urging all sides "to act responsibly and to de-escalate" the situation.

Germany also urged restraint.

"We are watching the increasing rhetorical escalation regarding the Korean Peninsula with the greatest concern," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters on August 9. "That is why we call on all sides to use restraint."

Schaefer said Germany was convinced that a "military option" could not be "the answer in the quest for a nuclear weapon-free Southeast Asia."

Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that Moscow hoped the United States “keeps calm and refrains from any moves that would provoke another party to actions that might be dangerous."

China, North Korea's closest ally, called for calm and restraint in a "highly complicated and sensitive" standoff.

"We hope all relevant parties speak cautiously and move prudently, stop provoking each other, avoid further escalating the situation, and strive to return to the correct track of dialogue and negotiations as soon as possible," the Foreign Ministry said.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters
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