FOR THE WEEK OF AUG. 21, 2017
Volley of threats between North Korea and U.S. cool down after tense exchanges
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Tensions are high between the United States and North Korea, a Communist country in Asia, although a war of words earlier this month has simmered down. The U.S. secretary of state, defense secretary and a top Pentagon general made efforts to lower the temperature after President Donald Trump warned volatile dictator Kim Jong-un against aggressive military moves. "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States," Trump said Aug. 8. "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."North Korea warned several hours later that it was considering a strike that would create "an enveloping fire" around the island of Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean with a U.S. Air Force base. "It is a daydream for the U.S. to think that its mainland is an invulnerable," added the statement from North Korea’s Army. That prompted Trump to respond: "He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before, what will happen in North Korea. He's not going to threaten the United States and he's not going to threaten Japan and he's not going to threaten South Korea."
Then Kim Jong-un stepped back a bit last week, deciding not to launch up to four ballistic missiles toward Guam this month in a show of force, as he had threatened the previous week. The Trump administration also spoke more softly. In a newspaper commentary last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote that "the U.S. is willing to negotiate" with North Korea” and said this country doesn't want a change of leaders there – just an end to its nuclear weapons buildup. The U.S. and South Korea are proceeding with previously planned joint military drills this week, even though that makes North Korea jittery.
North Korea, led by the son and grandson of brutal dictators, has nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles. After a decade of research, North Korea conducted its first successful nuclear bomb test in 2006. Last September it detonated a bomb as large as the on one dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 by President Harry Truman to end World War II. (After the war, the Korean Peninsula was divided into two zones -- with the northern half occupied by the Soviet Union and the southern half by the United States.) North Korea also has poured money into missile technology. A July 28 launch send one more than 2,000 miles into space. If it had been fired at a flatter trajectory — an easy adjustment — Chicago would have been in reach.
North Korea says: "We will make the U.S. pay dearly for all the heinous crimes it commits against the state and people of this country." -- Ri Yong-ho, foreign minister, referring to economic sanctions approved by the United Nations
U.S. says: "Americans should sleep well at night. Have no concerns about this particular rhetoric." – Rex Tillerson, secretary of state
American scholar says: “The savvy move by Washington would be to find a face-saving way to back down from the escalating rhetoric and to stop giving Kim Jong-un what he wants: propaganda victories and a justification to keep building bombs and missiles.” -- Jean H. Lee, a former foreign correspondent now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C.
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