By Anita Chang Beattie
Washington (AFP) Aug 11, 2017
President Donald Trump tightened the screws on North Korea Friday, warning Pyongyang would "truly regret" taking any hostile action against the US as he prepared for talks with China's leader on the crisis.
Trump has been engaged all week in a war of words with the North over its weapons and missile programs, as US media reported Pyongyang has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead.
The Republican billionaire has progressively ramped up the tone throughout the week and on Friday declared that the US military is "locked and loaded."
He had earlier brandished a threat of unleashing "fire and fury" on Pyongyang, then noted Thursday maybe that statement "wasn't tough enough."
But Trump also appeared to be open to diplomacy, saying he would speak on the phone Friday night with Xi Jinping, the president of China -- isolated North Korea's giant neighbor and closest ally.
"We have been working very closely with China and with other countries," Trump said.
"Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump," he said.
The North's official KCNA news service in an editorial accused Trump of "driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war," calling the US "the heinous nuclear war fanatic."
The saber-rattling has sparked worldwide concerns that a miscalculation by either side could trigger a catastrophic conflict on the Korean peninsula.
China, Russia and Germany have urged both sides to tone down the rhetoric.
"Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!" Trump wrote Friday from his golf club retreat in New Jersey, where he is on a working vacation.
Later in the day, he lashed out at Pyongyang's plans to launch missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam, urging Kim to heed his warnings.
"If he does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that's an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast."
- 'Be cautious' -
China also urged Trump and Kim to avoid any further escalation.
"We call on the relevant parties to be cautious with their words and actions, and contribute more toward easing tensions and enhancing mutual trust," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement.
Beijing has repeatedly pushed resuming long-dormant six-party talks to peacefully resolve the mounting tensions, but its position has been overshadowed by Trump and Kim's emerging game of brinkmanship.
Trump has called on China to "do a lot more" to heap pressure on Kim.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was "very alarmed" at Trump's tough talk, and said Washington should take the first step toward cooling tensions.
"When a fight has nearly broken out, the first step away from the dangerous threshold should be taken by the side that is stronger and smarter," Lavrov said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the intensifying chorus of calls for restraint, saying diplomacy was the answer.
"Germany will very intensively take part in the options for resolution that are not military but I consider a verbal escalation to be the wrong response," she said.
Nearly a week ago, the UN Security Council unanimously passed fresh sanctions against Pyongyang over its weapons program, including export bans, a new punishment that could cost North Korea $1 billion a year.
"This is clearly a time for all the parties to focus on how to de-escalate and lower the tensions," said the spokesman for United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Stephane Dujarric.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula tend to increase when Seoul and Washington launch major military joint exercises, and the next, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, is set to kick off around August 21.
- 'Tragedy of war' -
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appeared intent Thursday on easing the tension, describing the prospect of war as "catastrophic" and saying diplomacy remained the priority.
Asked Friday if Mattis was aware of Trump's latest tweet, spokesman Colonel Rob Manning simply said the Pentagon chief was "in close and constant contact with the president."
A White House official noted: "There are military plans for just about any crisis we may face in the world. (...) This isn't anything new."
In China, the state-run Global Times said Friday that Beijing should "stay neutral" and not intervene on Pyongyang's side if it triggered a conflict.
Meanwhile in South Korea, calls mounted for Seoul to develop atomic weapons of its own, with the Korea Herald saying in an editorial: "Now is time to start reviewing nuclear armament."
- 'Bereft of reason' -
Relations between Washington and Pyongyang have been tense for months, in the wake of the North's repeated missile tests, including two successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launches in July that are believed to have brought much of the US mainland within range.
North Korea raised hackles in the United States when it announced a detailed plan to send four missiles over Japan and towards Guam, an island territory of some 165,000 people, where some 6,000 US soldiers are based.
Pyongyang said the scheme to target the island, a key US military outpost in the western Pacific, was intended to "signal a crucial warning" as "only absolute force" would have an effect on a US leader "bereft of reason."
The tough talk caused global markets to plunge this week, with stocks in the red again Friday in Asia and much of Europe.
US military assets in the Asia-Pacific region
But Trump's message doesn't change anything about the US military's posture in the Asia-Pacific region or on the Korean Peninsula, where the Pentagon has for years claimed it is ready to "fight tonight" if necessary.
Here is a look at the size and strength of some of America's massive arsenal in the region.
- South Korea -
A key component to US military power in the Asia-Pacific region is its permanent deployment of troops in South Korea, a legacy from the Korean War.
Because the truce between the Koreas was never ratified by a formal peace treaty, the two sides technically remain at war, and Pyongyang has in the past put its troops on a war footing during times of high tension.
The Pentagon currently has 28,500 troops from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy stationed in the South.
The bulk of these -- about 19,000 soldiers -- are from the 8th Army which is garrisoned at Yongsan in Seoul, just 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the border with North Korea.
The US also has multiple squadrons of F-16 fighters and A-10 ground-attack jets.
The American forces are closely intertwined with their South Korean partners and the two militaries routinely conduct joint drills -- the next of which are slated for later this month.
The Pentagon also recently deployed a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to South Korea that is capable of intercepting medium-range ballistic missiles.
- Japan -
The US military has a massive presence in Japan, rooted in the end of World War II, with a total of about 50,000 troops in the country.
The largest contingent of these is made up by the Marine Corps, which has more than 20,000 Marines permanently stationed in Japan including at Futenma and Iwakuni air bases.
Those troops fall under control for the US military's enormous Pacific Command, which has more than 377,000 civilian and military personnel working across the Asia-Pacific region.
And the Navy has a carrier strike group permanently based at Yokosuka in Japan, led by the massive USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.
The ships are part of the 7th Fleet, which is headquartered at Yokosuka and is the largest of the Navy's forward-deployed fleets.
- Naval power -
Trump vowed he was sending an "armada" toward the Korean Peninsula following an earlier flare-up in tensions in April, though it later transpired the strike group headed by the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier actually went in the opposite direction for drills off Australia before heading toward the Korean Peninsula.
Currently, the only strike group within immediate access of the Peninsula is the USS Ronald Reagan, though the USS Nimitz is in the Gulf and the USS Theodore Roosevelt is conducting exercises off Southern California.
The Navy additionally fields a fleet of nuclear submarines. Their locations are secret but it's likely several of these are lurking in the region.
- Guam -
The military has more than 5,000 troops permanently stationed on Guam, a small US island territory that North Korea has said it plans to launch missiles towards.
North Korean's military said the plan involved four Hwasong-12 missiles, which would be aimed to come down "30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam".
The island hosts Andersen Air Base, where B-1 bombers are currently positioned. It is also home to a squadron of F-16 fighters.
A THAAD battery is also stationed on Guam.
Bangkok (AFP) Aug 8, 2017
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a pit-stop in Bangkok on Tuesday with a plea to the kingdom to curb business ties with North Korea, as Washington rounds up allies for its bid to halt Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. Tillerson is the highest level American diplomat to visit Thailand since a 2014 coup strained ties between the longtime friends and saw China court Bangkok with massive ar ... read more
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