Wednesday 21 February 2018

US attack would be 'devastating', Trump warns North Korea again

US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP
US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP

Steve Holland

US President Donald Trump has warned North Korea any US military option would be "devastating" for Pyongyang, but said the use of force was not what Washington wants.

"We are totally prepared for the second option, not a preferred option," President Trump said, referring to military force. "But if we take that option, it will be devastating, I can tell you that, devastating for North Korea. That's called the military option. If we have to take it, we will."

Despite the increased tension from the verbal sparring between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the US said it had not detected any change in North Korea's military "posture" reflecting an increased threat.

The assessment by Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, about Pyongyang's military stance was in contrast to a South Korean lawmaker who said Pyongyang had boosted defences on its east coast.

"While the political space is clearly very charged right now, we haven't seen a change in the posture of North Korean forces, and we watch that very closely," General Dunford said.

In terms of a sense of urgency, "North Korea certainly poses the greatest threat today", he added.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Monday accused Mr Trump of declaring war on the North and threatened that Pyongyang would shoot down US warplanes flying near the peninsula after American bombers flew close to the Korean peninsula last Saturday.

Mr Ri was reacting to Mr Trump's Twitter comments that Mr Kim and Mr Ri "won't be around much longer" if they acted on their threats toward the US.

North Korea has been working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the US mainland, which Mr Trump has said he will never allow. General Dunford said Pyongyang would soon have a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile - and it was only a matter of a "very short time".

During a visit to India, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said diplomatic efforts were continuing. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said war on the Korean peninsula would have no winner.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump renewed his criticism of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, calling them "disgraceful".

At a White House press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Mr Trump said the NFL should ban players from kneeling.

He insisted his dispute with the NFL didn't distract him from responding to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico.

"I wasn't preoccupied with the NFL," he claimed. "The NFL situation is a very important situation. I have plenty of time on my hands. All I do is work. And to be honest that's a very important function of working. It's called respect for our country."

Hours earlier, Mr Trump issued a call on Twitter for the National Football League to change its rules to prohibit players from kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. Meanwhile, he has come under increasing criticism for an unfolding humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico, which is without electricity or sufficient supplies of food and water six days after Hurricane Maria struck the US territory.

"It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of the situation on the island," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday. "Mr President, these are American citizens," he said. "They desperately need our help."

In another blow for Mr Trump, Republican leaders decided yesterday not to even hold a vote on the GOP's latest attempt to repeal the Obama healthcare law, surrendering on their last-gasp effort to deliver on the party's banner campaign promise.

"The bill is dead as a door nail," said Republican Senator John Kennedy.

The decision marked the latest stinging rejection on the issue for Mr Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Rejection became all but inevitable Monday after Maine GOP Senator Susan Collins announced she opposed the legislation.

She joined Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Texas' Ted Cruz, who'd already said they opposed the measure.

Irish Independent

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