North Korea said on Wednesday it is “carefully examining” a plan to strike the US Pacific territory of Guam with missiles, just hours after US President Donald Trump told the North that any threat to the United States would be met with “fire and fury”.
A spokesman for the Korean People’s Army, in a statement carried by the North’s state-run KCNA news agency, said the strike plan will be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment” once leader Kim Jong-un makes a decision.
In another statement citing a different military spokesman, North Korea also said it could carry out a pre-emptive operation if the US showed signs of provocation.
Trump threatened North Korea “with fire and fury like the world has never seen” on Tuesday after reports suggested the communist country has mastered one of the final hurdles to being able to strike the US with a nuclear missile.
The nuclear advances were detailed in an official Japanese assessment and a Washington Post story that cited US intelligence officials and a confidential Defense Intelligence Agency report. The US now puts the North Korean arsenal at up to 60 nuclear weapons, more than double most assessments by independent experts, according to the Post’s reporting.
“North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States,” said a stern-looking Trump, seated with his arms crossed and with his wife beside him, at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
The remarks appeared scripted, with Trump glancing at a paper in front of him. They evoked President Harry Truman’s announcement of the US atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, in which he warned of “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”.
Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from Washington DC, said that the missile that North Korea is threatening to hit Guam with was tested in May and South Korea’s intelligence analysts concluded it was capable of flying up to 5,000 kilometres, “which does make Guam well within striking range”.
Guam hosts strategic US military installations – including both a naval and an air force base – and is more than 3,400km from North Korea. It’s population is around 160,000 – but only about 6,000 US troops are currently stationed there.
Robert Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University, told Al Jazeera that both North Korea and Trump were almost certainly exaggerating in their respective rhetoric, as a conflict would be disastrous – and that Trump was likely stepping up the rhetoric to pressure China into taking action to curb North Korea’s behaviour.
“If the North Koreans were to strike Guam and kill a lot of Americans it would lead to a war which would destroy North Korea, so my guess is this is bluffing on both sides,” he said.
“But it certainly doesn’t help because it raises the possibility of miscalculation and misperception,” added Kelly.