U.S. President Donald Trump has said a military option against North Korea was "locked and loaded," in the latest escalation of rhetorical brinkmanship between the two nations.
"Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un will find another path!" Trump wrote on Twitter on August 11.
The term "locked and loaded" refers to a gun loaded with ammunition that is ready to be fired at any time by pulling the trigger.
Asked about his tweet, Trump later issued further threats to Pyongyang, saying, "I hope that they are going to fully understand the gravity of what I said, and what I said is what I mean."
"If [Kim] does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that's an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast," Trump told reporters at his golf resort in New Jersey, where he is on vacation.
Trump's remarks came a day after he told reporters that his previous warning that any further threats from North Korea "will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen" may have been too soft.
"It's about time somebody stuck up for the people of this country and the people of other countries, so if anything, maybe that statement wasn't tough enough," Trump said.
After meeting with this foreign policy team on August 11, Trump said South Korea and Japan, the two U.S. allies most directly threatened by North Korea, are "happy" with the way he is confronting North Korea.
He said the situation in North Korea was "very dangerous" but he has not given up hope for a peaceful solution.
"Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump," he said. "We will see what happens. We think that lots of good things could happen, and we could also have a bad solution."
North Korea has threatened to attack the U.S. territory of Guam in the western Pacific amid an escalating war of words over its nuclear program and a series of recent missile tests.
It said it will complete plans by mid-month to strike near Guam with intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
Diplomatic Efforts 'Gaining Traction'
"Let's see what he does with Guam," Trump said on August 10, referring to Kim. "He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody's seen before, what will happen in North Korea."
"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," Trump said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the United States is "ready" to take on North Korea, but warned that a war would be "catastrophic," and that a "diplomatically led effort to get this under control" was "gaining traction."
Trump declined to say whether Washington might consider a preemptive strike against North Korea, but said he was still open to negotiation.
"North Korea better get its act together or they are going to be in trouble like few nations in this world have ever been in trouble," he said.
International concern over North Korea's actions has grown after Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month, later claiming that it now had the capability to reach all of the U.S. mainland.
Last week, the United Nations imposed its harshest sanctions yet on the North as a result of its nuclear weapons program. They are expected to cut North Korea's export revenues by one-third.
On August 10, China, North Korea's main diplomatic and economic ally, called on both sides to tone down their fiery rhetoric.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged both sides to avoid "going down the old path of alternately showing strength and continuously escalating the situation."
"We call on the relevant parties to be cautious with their words and actions, and contribute more toward easing tensions and enhancing mutual trust," Geng said in a statement.
The Chinese statement came after Trump also criticized Beijing, saying it could "do a lot more" to pressure Kim to end his country's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Geng's statement did not address Trump's latest criticism.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa