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Trump says military is ‘locked and loaded’ and North Korea will ‘regret’ threats

U.S. and South Korean soldiers salute during a change of command and change of responsibility ceremony for Deputy Commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Force Command at Yongsan Garrison, a U.S. military base, in Seoul, South Korea.
U.S. and South Korean soldiers salute during a change of command and change of responsibility ceremony for Deputy Commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Force Command at Yongsan Garrison, a U.S. military base, in Seoul, South Korea.Associated Press Photo/Lee Jin-man

NEW YORK — President Trump issued yet more provocative warnings of military action against North Korea on Friday as he continued to suggest that he was ready to strike the small, isolated Asian country that has been developing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the United States.

Trump started the morning with a Twitter message saying the US military was “locked and loaded” for conflict, and then followed up in the afternoon by telling reporters that he hoped the North Koreans “fully understand the gravity of what I said.”

He singled out Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, saying that Kim has gotten away with destabilizing the region for too long.

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“This man will not get away with what he’s doing,” the president told reporters at his golf club in nearby Bedminster, N.J., where he planned to meet with members of his national security team later in the day.

“If he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat” or takes action against the US territory of Guam or against the United States’ allies, “he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast,” the president said.

Trump dismissed foreign leaders, lawmakers, and national security experts who have called his threats rash and even reckless. “My critics are only saying that because it’s me,” Trump said. “If somebody uttered the exact same words that I uttered, they’d say, ‘What a great statement, what a wonderful statement.’ ”

Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged House Speaker Paul Ryan to reconvene the House from its summer recess to consider legislation prohibiting a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea.

Cicilline said Friday that in light of Trump’s ‘‘reckless words’’ threatening North Korea, the House should immediately take up legislation barring a preemptive nuclear strike without prior congressional authorization, the Associated Press reported.

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He said Trump’s bellicose language has raised alarms around the world, adding that ‘‘if the president will not defuse this situation, then Congress must.’’ There was no immediate response from Ryan.

Trump’s morning tweet said that “military solutions” were ready “should North Korea act unwisely.”

To reinforce the point, the president later shared a post from the US Pacific Command stating that it was standing by for orders should the need arise. It said Air Force B1B bombers on Guam “stand ready to fulfill’’ a mission.

As a practical matter, Trump’s comments do not necessarily indicate a specific change in military readiness or any imminent action.

The motto of US forces based alongside allied troops in South Korea has long been “Ready to Fight Tonight,” mainly a slogan emphasizing preparedness rather than a statement of hostility. There has been little if any sign of mobilization that might suggest preparations for a strike.

Even without nuclear weapons, North Korea has an array of conventional artillery that analysts said could lay waste to Seoul and other parts of South Korea if war were to start, yet no move has been made to begin evacuating the many thousands of American civilians living there.

Trump has spent at least part of his week playing golf and was holding a meeting Friday on workforce development. Vice President Mike Pence was in Indianapolis on Friday talking about anticrime efforts.

In his afternoon comments to reporters, Trump said he planned to call Chinese President Xi Jinping to talk about the deepening crisis.

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The Trump administration has repeatedly said its diplomatic initiative to pressure North Korea into abandoning its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program is still in its early phases, with much work remaining to be done.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the United States is open to talks if North Korea stopped the series of missile tests that have rattled the region in recent weeks.

Most important, the Trump administration hopes to persuade China to use its considerable influence over North Korea’s economy and political leadership to resolve the situation for the United States, but analysts say that nothing of the sort is likely to happen, at the earliest, until this fall’s Party Congress is completed.

Indeed, all China’s leadership is at a seaside conference this weekend, so even getting calls returned in Beijing would be difficult.

But Trump was to meet Friday afternoon with Tillerson, just back from a trip to Asia, and Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations. He also rearranged his schedule to return to Washington on Monday for the day, a brief break in his 17-day escape from the White House. Aides said he would hold meetings on trade and national security, but it was not clear what might come from them.

As before, Trump’s Friday morning statement did not make clear what would constitute an action that would require a US military operation — would the United States take action only in retaliation for an attack by North Korea, or would it strike to stop further development of nuclear weapons?

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Last month for the first time, North Korea successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental United States, and analysts have said it may be able to miniaturize warheads that could fit on such missiles.

Still, even if it has, North Korea faces additional hurdles before it would be able to launch a nuclear attack on the United States, among them ensuring that a warhead could survive the ravages of reentry through the atmosphere. But the progress it has made has unnerved much of Asia, prompting a new set of sanctions by the UN Security Council.

Trump this week vowed to rain “fire and fury like the world has never seen” down on North Korea if it threatened the United States. After critics in both parties called that sort of language excessive and reckless, Trump doubled down on Thursday by saying that “if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”

The strident language emerging from New Jersey has set much of the world on edge.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia said his country would support the United States if the ally was attacked by North Korea. He denounced North Korea’s “illegal, reckless, provocative conduct,” which he said threatened stability in the region and “put the world at risk.”

New Zealand, on the other hand, would not commit. Prime Minister Bill English told local news outlet NZN that he was focusing on peace, but if there was military action against North Korea, his country would “consider our contribution on its merits.”

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Chinese leaders, including Xi, are largely focused on domestic politics. Top officials have gathered at Beidaihe, a seaside retreat more than 170 miles east of Beijing, to map out a once-every-five-years leadership reshuffle of the ruling Communist Party that is to take place this fall.

The Foreign Ministry is on summer break from its daily news conferences and posted a written statement Friday with a typical plea for restraint and dialogue.