President Donald Trump has issued an apocalyptic warning to North Korea, saying it faced “fire and fury” over its weapons programmes.
Trump’s comments marked a sharp intensification of Washington’s rhetoric over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes, which saw a seventh set of United Nations sanctions imposed on it at the weekend.
The remarks also appeared to echo Pyongyang’s own regular threats, most recently repeated on Monday, to turn Seoul into a “sea of flames”.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” said Trump, speaking from his golf club in New Jersey. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Trump’s tone was markedly different to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s assurances last week that Washington was not seeking regime change in Pyongyang.
Earlier, the Washington Post quoted a Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) analysis as saying officials think North Korea now has “nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery” — including in its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) — making it a potent threat against neighbours and possibly the United States.
The Pentagon did not comment on the story, but the Post said two US officials familiar with the analysis had verified the assessment’s broad conclusions, and CNN said it had confirmed the report.
Experts have long differed over the North’s exact capabilities, and a similar DIA assessment four years ago was dismissed by other intelligence organisations.
But all agree it has made rapid progress under leader Kim Jong-Un.
Last month Pyongyang carried out its first two successful ICBM launches, the first — described by Kim as a gift to “Americans” — showing it could reach Alaska, and the second extending its range even further, with some experts suggesting New York could be vulnerable.
Trump said Kim “has been very threatening beyond a normal state”.
“As I said, they will be met with the fire and fury and, frankly, power,” he told reporters.
US officials have repeatedly said this year that military action against the North was an “option on the table”.
But analysts and politicians reacted to the US president’s latest remarks with derision.
“Trying to out-threaten North Korea is like trying to out-pray the Pope,” John Delury of Seoul’s Yonsei University said on Twitter.
Security commentator Ankit Panda added: “Trump’s comments were dangerous and unusual; North Korea’s threat was also specific, but not unusual.”
Congressman Eliot Engel, the Democratic senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chastised Trump for drawing an “absurd” red line that Kim would inevitably cross.
“North Korea is a real threat, but the president’s unhinged reaction suggests he might consider using American nuclear weapons in response to a nasty comment from a North Korean despot,” Engel said in a statement.