President Donald Trump on Thursday doubled down on his fiery rhetoric against North Korea, telling reporters at an impromptu news conference during his working vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey, that his “fire and fury” comment might have been too tame.
Standing beside Vice President Mike Pence, Trump said North Korea’s rapid development of missiles that can strike the United States with nuclear weapons demands a bold response. His comments suggest that he is not backing away from Tuesday warning that North Korean faces “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” which drew a sharp rebuke from the North Korean government.
“They’ve been doing this for a long time, for many years. and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries,” Trump said. “So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough. And we’re backed 100 percent by our military. We’re backed by everybody. And we’re backed by many other leaders.”
Asked about a pre-emptive military strike, the president refused to talk about specifics. As to what actions he might consider, he suggested he is keeping all options open.
“We’ll see. We’ll see,” he said.
Trump spoke a second time to reporters after receiving a security briefing and renewed his tough rhetoric, responding specifically to North Korea’s threat to fire missiles near Guam. He also specifically criticized North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
“Let’s see what he does with Guam,” Trump said. “He does something with Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s ever seen before what will happen in North Korea … It’s not a dare. It’s a statement.”
Asked if he intends to beef up the U.S. military presence in Asia, he said he does not like to signal moves before he makes them.
“We are certainly looking at it,” he said. “Obviously, we are spending a lot of time looking at, in particular, North Korea. And we are preparing for many different alternative events … He [Kim] has disrespected our country greatly. He has said things that are horrific. And with me, he’s not getting away with it.”
Despite the rising tensions, Trump said at the earlier news conference that Americans should rest easily. But he added that the United States would not let provocations go unanswered.
“And I’ll tell you this, if North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love, or we represent, or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous, I’ll tell you what,” he said. “And they should be very nervous.”
Trump said he is open to negotiation but vowed it would not take the form of failed efforts of previous administrations.
“But they’ve been negotiating now for 25 years,” he said. “Look at [Bill] Clinton. He folded on the negotiations. He was weak and ineffective. You look at what happened with [George W.] Bush. You look what happened with Obama.”
Trump also expressed doubt about the effectiveness of what his own United Nations representative, Nikki Haley, negotiated. He praised her efforts and thanked China and Russia for their support, but he added, “Probably, it will not be as effective as a lot of people think it can be, unfortunately.”
Asked about seemingly different rhetoric coming out of different administration officials, Trump insisted there is no difference of opinion.
“There are no mixed messages,” he said, adding that comments by Defense Secretary James Mattis “may very well be tougher than what I said.”
Trump also took China to task for not doing enough to rein in North Korea but dangled the possibility that he might soften his trade views if China adopts a more aggressive posture.
“They know how I feel,” he said. “It’s not going to continue like that. But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade.”
Robert Kaufman, a Pepperdine University public policy professor who will teach this coming year at Colorado University’s Boulder campus, cautioned Trump against expecting too much assistance from China. He said the Chinese are unlikely to turn on their neighbor and ally without major concessions, such as U.S. abandonment of Taiwan.
“China won’t help us on North Korea unless we pay a price that is too high,” he told LifeZette.