WASHINGTON (CN) – Even as his top aides cushion his “fire and fury” language directed at North Korea, President Donald Trump said Thursday that his controversial threat might have been too tepid.
Trump made the initial remarks Monday in response to reports that North Korea had successfully miniaturized a nuclear weapon, saying any further provocation by the reclusive country would tigger a response of “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Responding to growing criticism of his statement, Trump said Thursday he had been using kid gloves.
“Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough?” Trump said, according to a White House pool report. “Maybe it wasn’t tough enough. They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe this statement wasn’t tough enough.”
Trump would not say whether he was considering a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, which announced Thursday via state-run media that its military is planning to launch four missiles in the waters surrounding Guam, a U.S. territory.
Tensions with North Korea have heightened in recent days, following a vote in the United Nations Security Council to approve new sanctions against the country.
Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN secretary general, called out the rhetoric as troubling Thursday in a press briefing at the New York headquarters.
“The secretary‑general has repeatedly said he welcomes all initiatives that will help deescalate the tensions and return to diplomacy,” Dujarric said. “He welcomed the Security Council’s unanimous vote. It’s important that all member states implement, implement the resolution, and I can promise you, this secretary‑general is, is following the situation closely.”
Dujarric added that the secretary-general is “always willing” to mediate.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Monday that Pyongyang would not give up its nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles, a condition Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said must be met before the two countries can negotiate.
On Tuesday The Washington Post reported that a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment found North Korea is capable of building a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on one of its ballistic missiles, which North Korea claims could reach the United States.
Despite the recent escalations, Trump on Thursday said Americans have nothing to fear.
“If North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love or we represent or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous,” Trump said Thursday, referring to North Korea. “I’ll tell you why. And they should be very nervous. Because things will happen to them like they never thought possible. OK? He’s been pushing the world around for a long time.”
Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld contributed reporting from New York