President Donald Trump’s pronouncement that North Korea would face “fire and fury” from the U.S. if it continues its threatening behavior sparked concern Tuesday night into Wednesday morning from some of the U.S. territories and allies most vulnerable to an attack from the regime of dictator Kim Jong Un.
Trump’s comments, made Tuesday from his club in Bedminster where he is taking a working vacation for much of August, “are not helpful in an environment that is very tense,” New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English told reporters Wednesday, according to the New Zealand Herald. He said he would convey his concern about Trump’s comments to the president should they continue.
“I am worried those comments are not helpful when the situation is so tense, and I think you are seeing reaction from North Korea that indicates that kind of comment is more likely to escalate than to settle things," English said.
Concern regarding North Korea and its ever-advancing nuclear weapons program has returned to the forefront in recent weeks as the Kim regime has begun testing ballistic missiles capable of hitting the continental U.S. At the same time, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Pentagon’s intelligence arm has concluded that Pyongyang has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead to the size necessary to fit its ballistic missiles.
Asked about North Korea and its nuclear program on Tuesday, Trump warned that the repressive regime “best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Wednesday morning, the president retweeted posts from the account of Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” morning show linking to stories headlined “U.S. Air Force jets take off from Guam for training, ensuring they can ‘fight tonight’” and “Trump vows U.S. ‘power’ will meet North Korean threat.”
On Guam, the Pacific island that would likely be among the most vulnerable U.S. territories to a strike from North Korea, Governor Eddie Baza Calvo told residents that there is no threat to his island or to the nearby Mariana Islands, according to the Associated Press. He said he would remain in contact with the admiral in charge of Joint Region Marianas, the military command that oversees the Guam and the Marianas, to ensure Guam is "prepared for any eventuality."
Guam was the target of renewed North Korean threats overnight Tuesday, with Pyongyang announcing it was examining operational plans to strike Guam, which plays host to a large U.S. military presence. In a statement, North Korea’s army threatened to launch missiles and create an "enveloping fire" around Guam.
Madeleine Bordallo, Guam’s delegate to Congress, said she too was working with the Department of Defense to ensure the island’s safety, recalling her efforts to encourage the military to permanently deploy a missile defense system on the island. She called on Trump to work with other nations, noting that China plays an especially large role in any issue involving North Korea, but expressed apprehension regarding the president’s rhetoric.
"The President’s tweet earlier today is concerning and unhelpful and does not lay out a clear strategy on how he will address the growing threats from North Korea. Kim Jung Un’s reckless behavior cannot be tolerated, and I strongly urge the President to explore every avenue to peacefully respond to it and avoid further escalating this situation,” she said.
In a statement released Wednesday headlined “no change in threat level from recent North Korea events,” Guam’s offices of homeland security and civil defense said it was continuing to monitor, in conjunction with the U.S. military, the threat posed by the Kim regime. In the statement, Guam’s homeland security adviser George Charfauros advised “the community to remain calm, remember that there are defenses in place for threats such as North Korea and to continue to remain prepared for all hazards.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), whose state is also home to a large military presence and would be another potentially vulnerable target for North Korea, called Trump’s comments “unwise” in a post to Twitter. He followed that post with a series of others, calling on the White House to send nominations for key diplomatic posts, including for ambassador to South Korea, to the Senate.
“We need vigorous diplomacy and to beef up missile defense. POTUS statement unwise in tone, substance. No gain from using such language,” the Hawaii lawmaker wrote. “It would be excellent to have a President experienced in foreign policy and government leadership next time.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called Trump’s “fire and fury” remark “irresponsible and alarming” in his own flurry of Twitter posts. "Instead of threats & over-the-top rhetoric, we need to pursue a smart, long-term strategy to address these growing threats,” he wrote. “Among the steps we should immediately consider are further economic sanctions aimed at those who continue to trade w/ North Korea."