President Donald Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” has made plain that the United States can and will defend itself, a fact North Korea must realize, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday.
“I think what the president was doing was sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand,” Tillerson told reporters on the plane with him as he traveled to Guam, the U.S. territory Kim Jong Un threatened with a pre-emptive strike on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
Kim has repeatedly threatened the United States with a nuclear attack and has backed up those threats with ballistic missile tests that have now demonstrated an ability to hit much of the United States. He has also pursued a nuclear weapons program that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded can now produce nuclear warheads for those missiles.
Trump warned North Korea about its threats of attacking the United States at an event at his New Jersey golf club on Tuesday.
“They will be met with fire and fury, like the world has never seen,” he said.
Tillerson told reporters that since Kim does not seem to understand diplomatic language, Trump spoke more directly.
“I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime that the U.S. has an unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies, and I think it was important that he deliver that message to avoid any miscalculation on their part,” he said.
On Wednesday, North Korea threatened to attack Guam, which is known as the “tip of the spear” for the U.S. military’s forward deployed forces in the Pacific.
In a statement sourced to a spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the regime said a “pre-emptive strike is no longer the monopoly of the U.S.”
The regime routinely threatens Guam, as it did after the United States flew two B-1B bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday local time.
Major media outlets and pundits have framed the threat as a response to Trump’s “fire and fury” comment while the statement itself points to recent military exercises including the testing of Minuteman-3 ICBM at its Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The statement said the Korean People’s Army (KPA) is examining an operational plan “for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the U.S. major military bases on Guam including the Anderson Air Force Base.”
The KPA statement said bombers in Guam “get on the nerves of the DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above South Korea.”
The awkwardly worded statement suggests the regime has a Hwasong-12 medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket stationed “to send a serious warning signal to the U.S.”
Guam is a territory of the United States and its residents are U.S. citizens by birth. Thousands of American service members and their families also live there.
The island rests 6,000 miles from Los Angeles but just 2,000 miles from Pyongyang. Though the United States has bases in Japan and South Korea that are much closer to North Korea, launching an attack from either of these would require the permission of those governments and could bring those countries into the war.