(ANTIMEDIA) — A day after President Donald Trump warned that the military would unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it continued to threaten the United States, two top Trump administration officials delivered conflicting messages regarding the Hermit Kingdom on Wednesday.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said Tuesday, responding to a reporter’s question while vacationing at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
In response, Pyongyang did exactly what the president warned against. Calling the island territory of Guam “the United States’ outpost and starting base for invasion,” North Korea’s state media reported late on Tuesday that the country’s military is “carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam.”
While tiny at only 30 miles long and four miles wide at its narrowest, Guam is a highly strategic territory for the U.S. in the Pacific. With hundreds of thousands of troops stationed there at Andersen Air Force and naval bases, Guam serves as the westernmost tip of the United States’ military might.
Trump’s — quite literally — fiery rhetoric on Tuesday, combined with North Korea’s threat against Guam, meant top U.S. officials would have their work cut out for them on Wednesday. And two of those officials, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, sent mixed messages to the media, as reported by the New York Times:
“Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Mattis were left with the task of ratcheting down some of the heat of the moment without undercutting the president. In the process, each emphasized different elements.”
Tillerson, the United States’ chief diplomat, who was returning from a trip to Asia, told reporters during a refueling stopover in — ironically enough — Guam, that despite the apparent spike in tensions, little had changed on the North Korea issue.
“I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” the secretary of state said Wednesday. “Nothing I have seen and nothing I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours.”
Continuing, he downplayed Trump’s comments, saying the U.S. leader was simply speaking to Kim Jong-un in a manner he could comprehend:
“I think what the President was doing was 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 did, however, hint that the most powerful military in the world is still ready, willing and able to handle anything Kim can throw at it:
“I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime that the U.S. has unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies, and I think it was important that he deliver that message to avoid any miscalculation on their part.”
This “unquestionable ability” barely touched on by Tillerson was the focus of comments from Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday, however. In a statement in which he referred to the Hermit Kingdom by its official name — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — Mattis asked Kim to think about his people before doing anything rash.
“The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” he said. “The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”
Saying diplomacy is still the preferred option, Mattis nevertheless talked up the U.S. military’s prowess and noted that North Korea will never be able to equal it:
“While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth. The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”
Additionally, Mattis reminded Kim that it’s not just the United States that takes issue with North Korea’s missile program:
“Kim Jong Un should take heed of the United Nations Security Council’s unified voice, and statements from governments the world over, who agree the DPRK poses a threat to global security and stability.”
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump himself couldn’t remain silent as his top officials responded to the heightened tensions. On Twitter on Wednesday — in a move CNN described as “potentially further escalating the standoff with Pyongyang” — the president stated the U.S. would forever be the planet’s most dominating force:
“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!”