President Trump responded saying any North Korean threat “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea’s responded, warning it planned to strike near Guam as soon as mid-August, and was merely waiting for Kim to give the go-ahead. Trump, however, doubled down, saying if Pyongyang threatened U.S. interests and allies “things will happen to them like they never thought possible.” He then said U.S. military solutions were “locked and loaded,” adding he hoped Kim “will find another path.”
The remarks led to concerns the two countries were one errant comment away from a conflict—possibly involving nuclear weapons. Trump has previously said that while the U.S. was open to diplomacy, two-plus decades of talks with North Korea had not persuaded the country to renounce its nuclear-weapons or missile programs. In fact, North Korea has repeatedly been found cheating on its international obligations, part of the reason why the Obama administration did not talk with the North.
Still, it emerged that despite the president’s comments, the Trump administration had been engaged in regular back-channel diplomacy with Kim’s regime at the UN. The two sides—represented by Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, and Pak Song Il, the North Korean diplomat at the UN mission—had been discussing U.S. citizens detained in North Korea as well as relations between the two countries. Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, and James Mattis, the defense secretary, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal said the U.S. wanted a diplomatic solution to the tensions, and insisted the U.S. wasn’t seeking regime change in the North.
What also emerged was that amid the escalating rhetoric, there was little evidence of a parallel increase in U.S. military preparedness. As Defense News pointed out:
In Yokosuka, Japan, the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed ready aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan sits peacefully pier-side, along with the U.S. 7th Fleet command ship Blue Ridge. On the Korean Peninsula, the State Department has not advised American citizens to leave the country and U.S. military family members are not being evacuated. No Marines are being loaded on amphibious ships; no sailors have been recalled off leave to prepare for emergency operations; and no ballistic missile defense ships have been sortied to North Korea, the waters off Japan or to Guam, three sources said.
Nor were there signs that the U.S. was flying B-1 bombers, stationed at the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, over the Korean peninsula. Those flights have long been a source of irritation for North Korea—and Major Phil Ventura, a spokesman for Pacific Air Forces, said in an email that the last B-1 mission that went into Korean airspace was August 7, one day before Trump’s remarks about “fire and fury.”