Donald Trump has said military solutions for North Korea are “locked and loaded”, amid escalating tensions over nuclear weapons.
His tweet comes after several days of strident rhetoric from both sides, including a spontaneous statement by Mr Trump that Pyongyang faced “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the US with missiles.
Mr Trump said: “Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
The President did not specify whether the solutions were preemptive or reactive.
His tweet attracted immediate criticism from opponents.
Ben Rhodes, a former foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, said: “This isn’t a video game. Hundreds of thousands of lives at stake in war with NK. Was this statement signed off on by anyone?
“Was this statement coordinated with South Korea and Japan, our allies who are at enormous risk in conventional conflict with North Korea?”
Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2017
The latest row over North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programmes was sparked by its test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on 28 July.
Its range showed the North was now capable of striking the mainland US, the regime claimed.
Then a leaked intelligence report showed some in Washington believed the Kim regime possessed the ability to miniaturise a nuclear warhead for use on an ICBM, prompting Mr Trump’s “fire and fury” statement during a press conference at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort.
Pyongyang subsequently claimed it was preparing to strike the US Pacific territory of Guam, which has a population of more than 160,000 and hosts two key military bases, with “historic enveloping fire”.
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Mr Trump later said he thought his warning may not have been “tough enough”.
He told reporters, after a security briefing with top advisers on Thursday: “We’re backed 100 per cent by our military, we’re backed by everybody and we’re backed by many other leaders.
“And I noticed that many senators and others came out today very much in favour of what I said. But if anything that statement may not be tough enough.”
Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, explained away Mr Trump’s “fire and fury” rhetoric as sending a message to North Korea “in language that Kim Jong-un can understand”.
More than 60 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter to Mr Tillerson expressing their “profound concern” over the President’s words.
They wrote: “These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda which has long sought to portray the United States as a threat to their people.”
The new President has taken an unswervingly forthright position on North Korea since his inauguration, and has repeatedly called on China—Pyongyang’s sole major ally—to pressure Mr Kim into halting his rapidly advancing nuclear programme.
His unfiltered tweets and statements have sometimes contradicted the more moderate lines taken by senior members of his cabinet.
Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst, told the BBC’s Today programme earlier this week that Mr Trump’s rhetoric was not “helpful in trying to generate international support for the United States”.
A military strike on North Korea would have “catastrophic consequences”, he said, echoing the analysis of Defence Secretary James Mattis.