Navy vessels are moored in port at the U.S. Naval Base Guam at Apra Harbor, Guam March 5, 2016. ( Major Jeff Landis,USMC (Ret.)/Naval Base Guam/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS)
GUAM/SEOUL–North Korea said on Wednesday it is considering plans for a missile strike on the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, just hours after President Donald Trump told the North that any threat to the United States would be met with “fire and fury.”
The sharp increase in tensions rattled financial markets and prompted warnings from U.S. officials and analysts not to engage in rhetorical slanging matches with North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy the United States. North Korea said it was “carefully examining” a plan to strike Guam, which is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. military base that includes a submarine squadron, an airbase and a Coast Guard group.
A Korean People’s Army spokesman said in a statement carried by state-run KCNA news agency the plan would be put into practice at any moment once leader Kim Jong Un makes a decision. Guam Governor Eddie Calvo dismissed the threat and said the island was prepared for “any eventuality” with strategically placed defenses. He said he had been in touch with the White House and there was no change in the threat level. “Guam is American soil … We are not just a military installation,” Calvo said in an online video message.
North Korea, which is pursuing missile and nuclear weapons programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, also accused the United States of devising a “preventive war” and said in another statement that any plans to execute this would be met with an “all-out war wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the U.S. mainland.” In a small show of goodwill though, North Korea said it had released a Canadian pastor serving a life sentence there on humanitarian grounds.
Washington has warned it is ready to use force if needed to stop North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs but that it prefers global diplomatic action, including sanctions. The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday. Trump issued his strongest warning yet for North Korea in comments to reporters in New Jersey on Tuesday. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump said. China, North Korea’s closest ally despite Beijing’s anger at Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs, described the situation as “complex and sensitive”, and urged calm and a return to talks.
North Korea has made no secret of its plans to develop a nuclear-tipped missile able to strike the United States and has ignored all calls to halt its weapons programs. Pyongyang says its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are a legitimate means of defense against perceived U.S. hostility, including joint military drills with South Korea. Asian stocks fell, with South Korea’s benchmark index and Japan’s Nikkei both closing down more than 1 percent, while gold and the safe-haven yen strengthened. “Tensions will continue to mount and could eventually develop into a black swan event that the markets are not prudently considering,” Steve Hanke, professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University, told the Reuters Global Markets Forum. South Korea and the United States remain technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
The South Korean capital, Seoul, is home to roughly 10 million people and within range of massed North Korean rockets and artillery, which would be impossible to destroy in a first U.S. strike. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops remain stationed in South Korea and in nearby Japan, the only country to have been attacked with nuclear weapons. Wednesday marked the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city of Nagasaki by the United States.