President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson voiced two different perspectives on the risk posed by the nuclear capabilities of North Korea, with Trump saying the country's arsenal is "far stronger and more powerful than ever before" and Tillerson claiming there is no imminent threat.
On Aug. 8, Trump said at his New Jersey golf resort that North Korea would meet with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if they threatened the U.S. In response, North Korea announced it was considering "making an enveloping fire" around the U.S. territory of Guam, which has a U.S. Air Force base, reports The Associated Press.
Tillerson later said at a planned stop in Guam that he had seen nothing in the past few days that would cause him to believe the Pacific island was under threat. He had been on his way back to the U.S. after visiting Malaysia, and said he saw no reason to re-route his trip to avoid Guam.
Early in the morning on Aug. 9, Trump took to Twitter to re-tweet a video of this threat to Pyongyang. Beginning at 7:56 a.m. EST, he sent out two tweets reaffirming his willingness to use the U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to CNBC.
"My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal," the president tweeted. "It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before…"
"...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!"
According to BuzzFeed, a White House spokesperson said Trump had spoken with White House chief of staff John Kelly before taking to Twitter. The site also claims that both The New York Times and Weekly Standard report that the specific language of the tweets was "entirely improvised."
Hours earlier, Tillerson said "Americans should sleep well at night" and that he had "no concerns about this particular rhetoric over the last few days."
"What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un can understand, because he doesn't seem to understand diplomatic language," Tillerson explained of Trump's Aug. 8 remarks. "I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the U.S. unquestionable ability to defend itself."
There have been no major reports on Trump's early executive order to review the U.S. nuclear arsenal and ensure it is well-prepared for current threats.
Independent nuclear weapons analyst Stephen Schwartz called Trump's claim that the U.S. has expanded its nuclear capacity "patently absurd," The Week reports.
"Literally nothing has happened in the last 201 days to increase the overall power of the US nuclear arsenal," Schwartz wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Gorka, one of Trump's lead security advisers, told Fox News show "Fox & Friends" that North Korea should be wary of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
"The message is very clear: don't test this White House, Pyongyang," Gorka said. He later added, "We are not just a superpower. We were a superpower. We are now a hyper-power."
North Korea has tested more than one dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017, including two since early July, reports NBC News. U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has built nuclear weapons to fit on the ICBM missiles, which could reach far enough to hit the continental U.S.
Despite North Korea's weapon developments, Guam Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo said on Aug. 9 that "there is no change in threat level resulting from North Korea events." Still, he says that the island territory was working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to ramp up protection.
Destroyers in Guam could potentially defend against an ICBM launch, according to BuzzFeed News.