The Governor of Guam, the US territory threatened with attack by North Korea, has backed Donald Trump’s fiery rhetoric toward the nuclear-armed nation, saying that a President who whole-heartedly embraces forceful retaliation over attacks on US territory is “what I want”.
Days of escalating rhetoric between the Trump administration and the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have alarmed Asian allies – and placed the Pacific island in the middle of a global political crisis – after Mr Trump made clear that any further action from Pyongyang over its banned missile and nuclear programmes will be “met with fire and fury”.
That statement, with its undertones of renewed conflict on the Korean peninsula, prompted a matching show of belligerence from North Korea. The country’s state-run media claimed it was formulating plans to strike the US territory of Guam with “historic enveloping fire” and taunted Mr Trump as “bereft of reason” and someone for whom “only absolute force can work.”
It is not the first time North Korea has threatened Guam, a small United States territory that hosts a US military outpost. But the North Korean military’s claims via state media that it would have plans to strike Guam with four missiles completed by “mid-August” reverberated around the world.
In an interview with Fox News, Guam Governor Eddie Calvo struck a defiant note and backed Mr Trump’s sabre-rattling.
“I want a president that says that if any nation such as North Korea attacks Guam, attacks Honolulu, attacks the west coast, that they will be met with hell and fury,” Mr Calvo said during an appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
North Korea’s state run KCNA news agency said that the country’s army will complete the plans in mid-August for the firing of four missiles, citing General Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army. The plans called for the missiles to land in the sea only 18 to 25 miles from Guam.
In remarks to reporters in Guam, Mr Calvo struck a reassuring tone, saying “this is not the time to panic,” according to the Pacific Daily News.
The war of words between the two nations was sparked by reports that North Korea had successfully miniaturised a nuclear weapon to place atop a ballistic missile. Tensions had already been raised by two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests by Pyongyang in July and NBC News reported on Thursday that multiple US intelligence agencies – including the CIA – now agreed that the North had taken the significant step of miniaturising a weapon.
In pictures: North Korea military drill
The US Air Force spotlighted a mission flown from Guam by two American bombers, which a military official touted in a statement as a sign that “our air forces stand combat-ready to deliver airpower when called upon.” Secretary of Defence James Mattis released a statement underscoring America’s “demonstrated capabilities and unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from an attack,” noting “the readiness of our ballistic missile defense and nuclear deterrent forces.” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, speaking to the country’s parliament, reiterated that Japan had the right to intercept a North Korean missile heading for Guam.
The rhetoric has left countries in the region uneasy with a number calling for calm. China also rebuked Mr Trump’s role in escalating tensions via a piece in state outlet Xinhua, warning that “such a hostile approach will do little but make things worse.”
“Reality has shown that tough tit-for-tat confrontations can lead nowhere, and that only dialogue can help address reasonable security concerns of the related parties for a solution acceptable to all, ensure denuclearisation on the peninsula and bring a lasting peace to the entire region,” the editorial said.
Back in the US, senior Democrats had called the language “reckless” with some of those in Congress arguing that strikes on North Korea would require their sign off. However Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Thursday that Mr Trump wouldn’t need Congressional approval but urged his colleagues to grant it as a “last resort”.
“It would be very smart if the Congress could come together and tell the president ‘you have our authorisation to use military force … as a last resort.’ That would sent a signal to North Korea and China, that would probably do more good to avoid war than anything I could think of,” Mr Graham told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. He added that passing a military authorisation for North Korea would require Democrats to “take their hatred of Donald Trump and park it.”
Mr Graham also backed Mr Trump to back-up his words with action.
“If negotiations fail, he is willing to abandon ‘strategic patience’ and use pre-emption,” he said. “I think he’s there mentally. He has told me this.”
“I’m 100 percent confident that if President Trump had to use military force to deny the North Koreans the capability to strike America with a nuclear-tipped missile, he would do that,” Mr Graham added.
Some officials in the Trump administration have sought a calmer tone, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying earlier in the week that Mr Trump was engaging in a “pressure campaign” that, along with “engagement of China and Russia,” would deter North Korean aggression. Both nations’ representatives on the United Nations Security Council voted last week to impose new sanctions on North Korea in an effort to force the nation to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
However, former diplomatic officials have criticised Mr Trump. Susan Rice, who served as national security adviser to Barack Obama, wrote an opinion piece lambasting Mr Trump’s “dangerous” path and warning that the president had either indulged in the “folly” of an empty threat or was pondering the “lunacy” of war. Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry, who served in Bill Clinton’s administration, warned in an interview with The New York Times that America and North Korea could be “heading toward some sort of a conflict,” which he predicted could result in a million casualties even if no nuclear weapons were used.
As for Mr Trump – who received a security briefing on the situation on Thursday – White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders made clear that “certainly nothing has changed in the president’s thinking” on North Korea given the latest developments.