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North Korea Dismisses Trump's Threats, Warns Of "Absolute Force"

Tens of thousands of North Koreans gathered for a rally at Kim Il Sung Square carrying placards and propaganda slogans as a show of support for their rejection of the United Nations' latest round of sanctions in Pyongyang, North Korea, Aug. 9, 2017.
Jon Chol Jin / Associated Press
Tens of thousands of North Koreans gathered for a rally at Kim Il Sung Square carrying placards and propaganda slogans as a show of support for their rejection of the United Nations' latest round of sanctions in Pyongyang, North Korea, Aug. 9, 2017.
Trump, North Korea Trade Escalating Threats Of Fire
Trump, North Korea Trade Escalating Threats Of Fire GUEST: Tai Ming Cheung, director, University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation

This is KPBS Midday Edition . I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Are the top story on the midday addition, the ongoing discussion about North Korea and the growing nuclear capability. It became real for Americans on Tuesday when a war of words broke out between North Korea and Donald Trump. New UN sanctions prop ended threats from North Korea which were met with threats from the president about the U.S. unleashing quote fire and fury like the world has never seen unquote. North Korea replied with a threat against the territory of Guam. And the meantime, Rex Tillerson has tried to calm the waters, urging renewed talks but yesterday's heightened rhetoric may have increased the danger of conflict in the area.Joining me is the director of the University of California Institute on global conflict and cooperation. Welcome to the program.Thank you for having me.The most recent statement is that North Korea is studying how to create loping fire in Guam. Is that a specific threat to a specific threat unusual to say ?It is not too different from the past statements. What it shows is that we are moving from what they have done in the past which is talking about general terms about nuclear deterrence. Now, they talk about developing strategy it is a approach where how do we use our weapons capability to fight the war. That is a different take itself. That is a more concerned take.President Trump use the language that seem to threaten a nuclear strike. Is that how North Korea and other Asian countries -- Asian countries will interpret his statements ?I am sure that will be within the leadership. Also, Tokyo and Beijing, there will be debates going on but I think if you are in , you take a more worry is some assessment of the international system. Words that come from President Trump and from the Defense Secretary itself, the will take it at the worst.UC San Diego helps organize a annual dialogue with the Asian countries. You were there this summer as diplomats from Russia and South Korea. Was this recent escalation anything that you could have predicted?A lot of discussions, where do we go from here? When we held the meeting, it was the first of the ICM test. What has come since then, especially report, those were some of the discussions that we had. Nothing what we have seen is new. The trend is increasingly accelerated. That is the concern, that we are going faster and faster in the spiral of tension and threats and counter threats.Rex Tillerson tried to calm the waters and claimed that there is no immediate threat and we should all sleep soundly. What is the immediate danger for the U.S. cities on the west coast and Guam. Is there an immediate danger ?There is no immediate danger because they have not tested the nuclear capabilities. The missile test is still quite some ways away. They do not have the accuracy or the reentry technologies. Those are all a matter of whether it is months or a couple of years away. The main concern is what does that U.S. and the allies do? Do they take reactive action? You read President Trump, that is one way to interpret that. That is the main concern. Do we try to stop the North Koreans in terms of capabilities by doing something preemptively?The Washington Post reported yesterday that North Korea has advanced. Intelligence sources say they have made a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a missile. Do you believe those reports are accurate ?Yes. We have heard this from various sources. The North Koreans have not actually tested one. We know that they have the ability. The question is, will they test.This back and forth between Washington andstarted with increasing sanctions against North Korea. China and Russia sided with the U.S. in that decision. How much of an ally do you think China will be in diffusing tension?It is in China's interest to try to prevent the escalation from getting out of control. The Chinese, it was an important move to compromise because they were quite skeptical about that.I think that at the end of the day, the Chinese have their own interest with North Korea. I do not think they completely align with that U.S. over the long-term., They do not want to completely isolate the North Koreans. This is why the UN sanctions came short of having that for example. In a broader relationship, there is more strategic competition and distrust. I am not sure the Chinese and the U.S. over the long-term see eye to eye on North Korea.Do you think this heightened rhetoric at this heightened risk is the new normal between the U.S. and North Korea?I think it is. You have a president who is inexperienced on our side, who seems to be using the same rhetoric as the North Koreans. They may be doing this for many years. The key thing is to be the center of attention. The more that they get the threats, the more they will use this to rally their country and push ahead. I think this is a dangerous pattern.I have been speaking with Tai Ming Cheung, the director of the use -- university of California. Professor, thank you.Thank you for having me.

North Korea on Wednesday officially dismissed President Donald Trump's threats of "fire and fury," declaring the American leader "bereft of reason" and warning ominously, "Only absolute force can work on him."

In a statement released on state media, General Kim Rak Gyom, who heads North Korea's rocket command, also said his country was "about to take" military action near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. He said the North would finalize a plan by mid-August involving mid-range missiles hitting waters 30 to 40 kilometers (19 to 25 miles) away from the island.

The plan will then go to the commander in chief of North Korea's nuclear force and "wait for his order," Kim was quoted by KCNA as saying. He called it a "historic enveloping fire at Guam."

RELATED: Guam’s Worries Grow As Tensions Rise Between US, North Korea

The statement only served to escalate tensions even further in a week that has seen a barrage of threats from both sides. While nuclear confrontation still seems incredibly remote, the comments have sparked deep unease in the United States, Asia and beyond.

A day after evoking the use of overwhelming U.S. military might, Trump touted America's atomic supremacy. He said his first order as president was to "renovate and modernize" an arsenal that is "now far stronger and more powerful than ever before."

It was a rare public flexing of America's nuclear might. And Trump's boasting only added to the confusion over his administration's approach to dealing with North Korea's expanding nuclear capabilities on a day when his top national security aides wavered between messages of alarm and reassurance.

If Trump's goal with two days of tough talk was to scare North Korea, Kim, the commander, put that idea quickly to rest.

He called Trump's rhetoric a "load of nonsense" that was aggravating a grave situation.

"Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him," the KNCA report quoted him saying.

Kim said the Guam action would be "an effective remedy for restraining the frantic moves of the U.S. in the southern part of the Korean peninsula and its vicinity."