by Agence France-Presse and Reuters
Hagatna, Guam/Seoul, South Korea — Nuclear-armed North Korea announced a detailed plan Thursday to send a salvo of four missiles over Japan and towards the United States territory of Guam, raising the stakes in a stand-off with President Donald Trump and mocking him as “bereft of reason.”
The scheme to target the island, a key US military stronghold, was intended to “signal a crucial warning” as “only absolute force” would have an effect on the US leader, the North said.
The United States warned North Korea that the pursuit of its nuclear drive could lead to the collapse of Kim Jong-Un’s regime, as Trump brandished America’s nuclear might as a deterrent.
THE DECLARATION CAME AFTER TRUMP BOASTED ON
Twitter that America’s nuclear arsenal was “far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”
Earlier, Trump stunned the world with a bold message to leader Kim Jong-Un that appeared to borrow from Pyongyang’s own rhetorical arsenal, saying the North faced “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
The war of words over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs is raising fears of a miscalculation that could lead to catastrophic consequences on the Korean peninsula and beyond.
Trump’s “fire and fury” remarks were “a load of nonsense,” said General Kim Rak-Gyom, commander of the North’s missile forces, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason,” he added in a statement.
The military would complete the Guam plan by mid-August and submit it to Kim Jong-Un for consideration, he said.
The distinctively precise statement said the four missiles would be launched simultaneously and overfly the Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima, and Kochi.
They would have a flight time of 17 minutes 45 seconds, travel 3,356.7 kilometers (around 2,086 miles) and come down 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam, it said — which would put the impact points just outside US territorial waters.
Japan, which has in the past warned it would shoot down any North Korean missiles that threaten its territory, responded that it could “never tolerate” provocations from the reclusive state.
The western Pacific island of Guam is home to US strategic assets including long-range bombers and military jets and submarines, which are regularly deployed for shows of force in and near the Korean peninsula, to Pyongyang’s fury.
Two supersonic US bombers took off from the island on a fly-over mission to Korea early this week.
Analysts said a North Korean launch towards Guam would put the US in a dilemma: If it did not attempt to intercept the missiles, its credibility would be damaged and the North would feel emboldened to carry out a full-range ICBM test.
GUAM GOV DISMISSES NOKOR’S THREAT
In Guam, the governor dismissed North Korea’s statement that it will develop a plan by mid-August to launch missiles at the US Pacific territory as coming from “a position of fear,” it was “well-equipped” to handle any North Korean strike thanks to robust infrastructure that had survived earthquakes and typhoons.
“They like to be unpredictable. They’ll pop a missile off when no one is ready and they’ve done it quite a few times. Now they’ve telegraphed it,” Guam Governor Eddie Calvo told Reuters in an interview on the island.
A drumbeat of threats by North Korea over the years has fostered a sense of resilience among the island’s 162,000 inhabitants, whose lives are deeply intertwined with the US military, which has 6,000 troops based there with a submarine squadron, an air base, and a Coast Guard group.
“They’re now telegraphing their punch, which means they don’t want to have any misunderstandings. I think that’s a position of fear,” Calvo added of the North Korean threat.
NO PANIC; DEFENSES UP
He said there was some concern among the public on Guam but no panic, and the authorities were “very confident” that there was no heightened threat despite the warnings from North Korea, which were first made on Wednesday.
Calvo said the remote Pacific island was accustomed to being a target ever since Washington placed military installations there.
“We have to understand that even in a million-to-one scenario we have to be prepared with Guam being what it has been for decades, an American territory with strategic military assets in place in a very dynamic region.
“We are prepared for any eventuality, more so than any other American community,” he said.
He did not elaborate on Guam’s defenses but the island houses two US military installations, and is also armed with a sophisticated weapons system known as THAAD, which can destroy short, medium and intermediate-range missiles in their final phase of flight.
“The way our infrastructure is built – an 8.3 earthquake a decade ago, powerful typhoons – they are well-equipped to coordinate both pre-event and also post-event,” he said.
“There is a defense umbrella contained within South Korea, there is a defense umbrella for Japan, there are naval assets between Korea, Japan and Guam, and there is a missile defense system of Guam that make up a multi-level defensive umbrella,” Calvo said.
“At this point, based on what facts are known, there is no need to have any concern as regards heightening the threat level.”
PULSE OF THE PEOPLE
In Guam’s capital Hagatna, residents were unruffled by Pyongyang’s rhetoric.
“If it’s going to happen it’s going to happen,” Loiue Joyce, a woman in her mid-20s, said of the North Korean threat, as she enjoyed a day of shopping.
“Scary? Yes, but what can we do? We live on a small island. There’s really nowhere to hide if the attack were to happen.”
Authorities said the regional tensions had not dampened tourists’ appetite for the island.
“It’s business as usual in paradise,” said Josh Tyquengco, marketing director at GuamVisitors Bureau, the official agency for the island.
“I am not aware of any cancellations. This is peak season for Guam. I don’t see North Korea’s story having any impact on tourism at this point.”
DESTRUCTION OF PEOPLE
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has often emphasized the devastating costs any conflict with North Korea could have, delivered a statement that seemed to back up his boss’s bellicose language.
He said North Korea must stop isolating itself and “stand down” in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and Pyongyang “should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”
The Pentagon chief also underscored the reality of North Korea’s nascent missile capabilities, saying they are “grossly overmatched” by the US and that Pyongyang would lose any arms race or conflict it started.
“Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!” Trump tweeted.
Amid reports that Trump’s comments have taken his inner circle by surprise, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the National Security Council and other officials knew the “president was going to respond… with a strong message in no uncertain terms.”