Trump warns of 'fire and fury' for North Korea if it threatens the US
US President Donald Trump has warned North Korea it would face "fire and fury" if it threatens the United States, prompting the nuclear-armed nation to say it was considering firing missiles at Guam, a U.S.-held Pacific island.
As tensions escalated, Pyongyang said it was "carefully examining" a plan to strike Guam, site of a U.S. military base.
A North Korean military spokesman, in a statement that was carried by state-run KCNA news agency, said that the plan would be put into practice once leader Kim Jong Un makes a decision.
In another statement citing a different military spokesman, North Korea said that it could carry out a pre-emptive operation if there were signs of a US provocation.
Washington has warned it is ready to use force if need be to stop North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear programs but that it prefers global diplomatic action, including sanctions.
The consequences of any US strike would potentially be catastrophic not only for North Koreans but also South Korea, Japan and the thousands of US military personnel within range of any North Korean retaliatory strikes.
"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen," Trump said at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The UN Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday over its continued missile tests, that could slash the reclusive country's $3bn annual export revenue by a third.
North Korea has made no secret of plans to develop a nuclear-tipped missile able to strike the United States and has ignored international calls to halt its nuclear and missile programs.
It says its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are a legitimate means of defence against perceived US hostility. It has long accused the United States and South Korea of escalating tensions by conducting military drills.
The United States has remained technically at war with North Korea since the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
The past six decades have been punctuated by periodic rises in antagonism and rhetoric that have always stopped short of a resumption of active hostilities.
Tensions have risen since North Korea carried out two nuclear bomb tests last year and two ICBM tests last month.
Republican US Senator John McCain said that Trump should tread extremely cautiously when issuing threats to North Korea unless he is prepared to act.
"I take exception to the president's comments because you got to be sure you can do what you say you're going to do," he said in a radio interview.
The Trump administration's attempts to pressure North Korea into abandoning its nuclear and missile ambitions have so far gained little traction.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has warned of an "effective and overwhelming" response against North Korea if it chose to use nuclear weapons but has said any military solution would be "tragic on an unbelievable scale."
The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea to guard against the North Korean threat. Japan hosts around 54,000 US military personnel, the US Department of Defence says, and tens of thousands of Americans work in both countries.
Seoul is home to a population of roughly 10 million, within range of massed pre-targeted North Korean rockets and artillery, which would be impossible to destroy in a first US strike.
The 'Washington Post' reported yesterday that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, according to a confidential U.S. intelligence assessment.
But US intelligence officials said that while North Korea has accelerated its efforts to design an ICBM, a miniaturized nuclear warhead, and a nosecone robust enough to survive re-entry through the Earth's atmosphere, there is no reliable evidence it has mastered all three, much less tested and combined them into a weapon capable of hitting targets in the United States.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held the door open for dialogue, saying Washington was willing to talk to Pyongyang if it halted its missile test launches.