Saturday 21 April 2018

US officials downplay Trump's N Korea threats

A photo released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) yesterday shows students queueing to join the Korean People’s Army after the UN Security Council’s “sanctions resolution”. Photo: KCNA
A photo released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) yesterday shows students queueing to join the Korean People’s Army after the UN Security Council’s “sanctions resolution”. Photo: KCNA

Nicola Smith

Top US national security officials sought to quell fears of imminent nuclear war with North Korea following days of heightened rhetoric by US President Donald Trump, as America's top general prepares to meet with South Korea's leader.

Walking a fine line of backing the tough talk directed at Pyongyang, but not wanting to raise the alarm at home, CIA director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser HR McMaster, in separate Sunday talk show appearances, said there was no indication war would break out.

"I've heard folks talking about that we're on the cusp of a nuclear war," Mr Pompeo said on 'Fox News Sunday'. "I've seen no intelligence that would indicate that we're in that place today."

The nation's intelligence watchers - who have monitored recent intercontinental missile tests and North Korea's improved ability to manufacture nuclear weapons - "have a pretty good idea" about their near-term intentions, Mr Pompeo said.

Mr McMaster, appearing on ABC's 'This Week', said "we're not closer to war than a week ago, but we are closer to war than we were a decade ago".

Days after Mr Trump said military options against North Korea were "locked and loaded", General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, plans to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in today.

Local residents pray during a Sunday Mass at Sta Barbara Church on the island of Guam. Photo: REUTERS
Local residents pray during a Sunday Mass at Sta Barbara Church on the island of Guam. Photo: REUTERS

Gen Dunford will also meet with senior military officials along with Mr Moon, according to an official with South Korea's Blue House who asked not to be identified. He will head to China next on the previously scheduled visit, Yonhap News Agency reported, citing an unidentified military official.

The visit comes as fears grow that a war of words between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will create a miscalculation that sparks an actual military conflict.

In a call with Mr Trump on Saturday in Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for all sides to maintain restraint and avoid inflammatory comments.

The US hasn't taken any public steps to prepare for hostilities, including evacuating Americans from Seoul, which is within range of North Korean artillery, or moving ships, aircraft or troops into position for an imminent response. The US has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.

Following Mr Trump's vow to unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea, Mr Kim's regime threatened to fire missiles into waters near Guam, home to US military bases in the region. The US and its allies warned Mr Kim against such a move, and Japan deployed four Patriot missile interceptors into the western part of the country.

Mr Pompeo and Mr McMaster defended Mr Trump's sometimes personal message aimed at Mr Kim. Mr Trump "made clear that the United States will not tolerate our citizens or our allies being threatened by this rogue regime," Mr McMaster said. "Our response is we are prepared militarily to deal with this if necessary."

Mr Pompeo said Mr Trump's comments were designed to send an unambiguous message to the country that it needs to disarm its nuclear weapons and that the US won't tolerate a first strike. When asked whether he was confident Mr Kim would heed that message, he said: "It's a very difficult situation in North Korea."

Meanwhile, priests in Guam led prayers for peace yesterday amid ongoing fears that their tiny Pacific island could come under fire from North Korean ballistic missiles over the next few days.

The call to prayer came ahead of what promises to be another tense week in the US territory, whose 162,000 inhabitants have been on tenterhooks since Mr Kim said he was mulling plans to fire four Hwasong-12 missiles within 40km of their coastline by mid-August.

Michael Byrnes, a Guam Archbishop, urged leaders of the island's 26 churches to "offer prayers for peace between our nations, just resolution of differences, and prudence in both speech and action," reflecting international pleas for Mr Trump, the US president, to tone down his bellicose rhetoric.

He also asked for prayers for "diligence and courage" for the men and women working on the Andersen Air Force base and the Naval Base Guam, where thousands of US military personnel are deployed to defend American interests in the western Pacific.

About 85pc of Guam's population claim an affiliation to Roman Catholicism, making it the main religion of the former Spanish colony, which was conquered by the US in 1898.

Many Guamanians, US citizens by birth, have invoked their Christian faith as an answer to dealing with the anxiety of being in the crosshairs of a potential nuclear conflict. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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