President Donald Trump followed up his incendiary warning to North Korea against threatening the United States with a boast on Wednesday about the strength of the American nuclear arsenal, although he expressed hope it would not need to be used.
Trump’s Twitter messages about the nuclear arsenal came after North Korea said it was considering plans for a missile strike on the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. That in turn followed Trump’s comments on Tuesday that any North Korean threat to the United States would be met with “fire and fury.”
“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump tweeted. “Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”
The sharp increase in tensions between a country that has one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals and an aspiring nuclear power rattled financial markets and prompted U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to try to play down the rhetoric.
While Trump said the nuclear arsenal was more powerful than ever before, U.S. officials say it takes decades to actually modernize nuclear weapons, a move already under way under President Barack Obama’s administration, and there are treaties that regulate nuclear expansion. The Trump administration is still conducting a nuclear posture review.
Shortly before Trump’s remarks on the nuclear arsenal, Tillerson landed in Guam for a previously scheduled visit after telling reporters he did not believe there was an imminent threat from North Korea and that “Americans should sleep well at night.”
Tillerson said that with his “fire and fury” warning, the U.S. president was trying to use the kind of language that would resonate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the United States.
“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said.
Earlier on Wednesday, North Korea said it was “carefully examining” a plan to strike Guam, which is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. military base that includes a submarine squadron, an airbase and a Coast Guard group.
The plan would be put into practice at any moment, once Kim Jong Un made a decision, a Korean People’s Army spokesman said in a statement carried by state-run KCNA news agency.
Guam Governor Eddie Calvo dismissed the threat and said the island was prepared for “any eventuality” with strategically placed defenses. He said he had been in touch with the White House and there was no change in the threat level.