WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump starkly warned North Korea over its nuclear threats on Tuesday in the kind of bellicose rhetoric usually associated with the rulers in Pyongyang, twice declaring, “They will be met with the fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
The president’s dramatic threat of annihilation raised fresh fears of a confrontation with North Korea, which successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile last month for the first time, and which has vowed to defend itself with nuclear weapons if necessary.
Trump spoke to reporters from the clubhouse of his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., where he is on what the White House calls a 17-day working vacation. His comments came a day after North Korean state media issued a typical anti-U.S. broadside, saying Pyongyang “will make the U.S. pay dearly for [its] heinous crimes.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week offered to resume negotiations with the isolated government in Pyongyang if it would stop ballistic missile tests, but Trump clearly decided to add a powerful stick to that carrot.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United Sta tes,” he said. “They will be met with the fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
He added that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I have said, they will be met with the fire and the fury, and frankly power, the likes of which the world has never seen before.”
Trump’s rhetoric in many ways mirrors his North Korean counterpart’s with its muscularity. But it also is in line with the president’s blunt style.
Trump’s comments followed a new U.S. intelligence assessment indicating that North Korea has made strides toward building a nuclear warhead that could fit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile. The report hardens previous U.S. assessments that date back to 2013.
U.S. officials caution that North Korea still has not developed a nuclear warhead capable of surviving an ICBM’s fiery re-entry into the atmosphere, but that step appears increasingly likely.
The classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency was dated July 28, the day North Korea tested its second and most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile. The two missile launches rang alarms in Washington because they indicated North Korea for the first time had the capability to strike California and beyond.
The DIA report assessed that Pyongyang is also now capable of producing so-called miniaturized nuclear warheads — about the size of a garbage can — to fit in the nosecone of an ICBM, a critical step in the nation’s decadelong march to develop a nuclear strike force, U.S. officials said.
The report also assessed that North Korea has stockpiled as many as 60 nuclear weapons, although outside analysis says the arsenal is much smaller, probably fewer than 20.
David Albright, a former United Nations nuclear inspector, said Pyongyang may have succeeded in building a warhead small enough to fit atop a missile, but he doubts it has mastered the technical challenges of launching it on an ICBM to carry out an attack.
North Korea is not known to have developed a re-entry vehicle, which carries the warhead atop the ICBM, that can survive the intense heat, pressure and vibration as it reenters the atmosphere from space, he said.
Nor have North Korean tests demonstrated the ability to hit a target like a city with precision, he said.
“I’m skeptical they’re there,” Albright said. “They could put a warhead on it, but it’s very likely it would not survive re-entry or hit its target.”
In North Korea’s tests of intermediate range missiles, the re-entry vehicles do not appear to have survived, said Albright, who heads a Washington proliferation research organization called the Institute for Science and International Security.
Albright also has said he is doubtful that North Korea had produced 60 nuclear warheads.World