On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that “North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.”
The Post’s report comes about a week after North Korea conducted a missile test that experts believe demonstrated the country now has the technological capability to hit large U.S. cities.
About three hours after the Post’s report was published, President Donald Trump responded by saying that if the regime of Kim Jong-un issues further threats, the U.S. will retaliate with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 8, 2017
When he hasn’t seemed confused about who’s in charge of the country, Trump has oscillated between claiming he wants to work together with other countries (namely China) to solve the North Korea crisis, and vowing that the U.S. will take care of the issue on its own.
North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2017
After many years of failure,countries are coming together to finally address the dangers posed by North Korea. We must be tough & decisive!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2017
But Trump’s “fire and fury” statement on Tuesday represents the most explicit threat he’s issued against North Korea.
During an MSNBC interview on Saturday, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said the prospect of North Korea developing nuclear-tipped missiles that could reach the U.S. would be “intolerable, from the president’s perspective.”
The Post’s report suggests that red line has already been crossed, though it also notes that military intelligence assessments aren’t foolproof. More than a decade ago, the Bush administration falsely assessed that North Korea was close to obtaining the capability to strike the U.S. mainland with the sort of ICBM technology U.S. military intelligence believes the country has just now obtained.
During the campaign, Trump said a number of concerning things about nuclear strikes. At various points, Trump wondered aloud why nukes would be made if they were never to be used, wouldn’t rule out nuking Europe, said that “you want to be unpredictable” with them, and revealed he had no idea what the “nuclear triad” is.
The president’s comments on Tuesday come a day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to leave the door open to talks between the U.S. and North Korea. During a security summit in Manila, Tillerson said “[t]he best signal that North Korea can give us that they are prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches,” adding that “means of communications” remain open.