U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday followed up his warning to North Korea against threatening the United States with a statement on the strength of the American nuclear arsenal, and an expression of hope that it would not need to be used.
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"My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before," he wrote on Twitter. "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!"
Earlier Pyongyang said it was ready to give Washington a "severe lesson" with its strategic nuclear force in response to any U.S. military action.
Washington has warned it is ready to use force if need be to stop North Korea's weapons ballistic missile and nuclear programs but has said it prefers global diplomatic action, including sanctions.
Moments before the president's latest tweets, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had played down Trump's incendiary warning to North Korea on Wednesday, saying he was just trying to send a strong message in language its leader would understand. Tillerson, speaking to reporters before landing in Guam, a U.S.-held Pacific island that Pyongyang threatened to strike, said he does not believe there is an imminent threat from North Korea.
"I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days," he said.
Trump on Tuesday warned North Korea it would face "fire and fury" if it threatens the United States, prompting the nuclear-armed nation to say it was considering firing missiles at Guam.
"I think what the president was just reaffirming is that the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack, and our allies, and we will do so," Tillerson said. The international community had a "pretty good week" with respect to North Korea, he said, citing new U.N. sanctions and strong statements coming out of a meeting of world leaders in Asia.
"In response to that, North Korea's rhetoric is just ratcheted up, louder and louder and more threatening," Tillerson told reporters. "So I think the president, 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."
The United States wanted to make clear it has the ability to defend itself and its allies, he said, and "avoid any miscalculation" by Pyongyang.
North Korea has made no secret of plans to develop a nuclear-tipped missile able to strike the United States and has ignored international calls to halt its nuclear and missile programs.
Tillerson said he hoped international pressure, including engagement of China and Russia, can persuade North Korea to reconsider its nuclear ambitions and begin diplomatic dialogue.
Despite regular North Korean threats against Guam, it is extremely unlikely that Pyongyang would risk the assured annihilation of its revered leadership with a pre-emptive attack on U.S. citizens. It's also not clear how reliable North Korea's mid-range missiles would be in an attack against a distant target given the relatively few times they've been tested.
Even so, the competing threats and Trump's use of North Korea-style rhetoric – Pyongyang has long vowed to reduce Seoul to a "sea of fire" – raise already high animosity and heighten worries that a miscalculation might spark conflict between the rivals