WATCH LIVE: Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow on Drew Peterson murder conviction upheld

North Korea threatens strikes on US as Trump warns of ‘fire and fury’

North Korea has threatened preemptive military strikes against the US, as President Donald Trump vowed to unleash "fire and fury" on Pyongyang if its aggression continued.

State-run media threatened a missile strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam and said North Korea would "turn the US mainland into the theater of a nuclear war" at any sign of an impending American attack.

It marked a dramatic escalation in rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang, as the Trump administration sends mixed messages on how it plans to contain the growing threat from North Korea.

North Korea's threat came after Trump's extraordinary remarks at his New Jersey resort of Bedminster 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," he said.

"The U.S. President at [golf] links again let out a load of nonsense about 'fire and fury,' failing to grasp the ongoing grave situation," North Korean state media said, directly mocking the President and his love of golf, in response to Trump's comments.

 

The North Korean statement goes on to say that "sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work with him."

 

Trump's comments were significantly more threatening than any made by US presidents in the past. They also appeared at odds with those of his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who has sought to dial down the tension with Pyongyang in recent weeks.

Tillerson defended Trump's comments Wednesday, saying the President had sent a "strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong-Un would understand."

But he also sought to reassure Americans that war was not imminent. "I have nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours," Tillerson said on a flight from the region. "Americans should sleep well at night," he said.

The key developments:

-- Trump's remarks came after claims by US intelligence sources that North Korea had developed the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead that can fit atop a missile.

-- They also followed threats by Pyongyang to "make the US pay dearly" for helping spearhead the passage of new UN sanctions against the country in response to two recent missile tests.

-- North Korea announced its plans to strike areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rockets in a report by state-run KCNA on Wednesday. It cited a military statement made a day earlier, before Trump's remarks.

-- The Guam plan was in response to the US flying two B-1B bombers from the Pacific island over the Korean peninsula on Monday. The bombers were joined by Japanese and South Korean aircraft.

The KCNA report said that a strike on Guam would be aimed at containing US military bases on the Pacific island.

Guam's governor, Eddie Baza Calvo, released a video address Wednesday, reassuring the island's residents that there was no escalated threat. Guam's Homeland Security Advisor George Charfauros told CNN that he remains confident of the island's defenses.

But North Korea warned in a separate KCNA report on Wednesday that it was looking beyond Guam and would hit the US mainland with preemptive strikes, with the use of nuclear weapons, should there be any sign the US planned to strike North Korea first.

"The US should (remember), however, that once there observed a sign of action for 'preventive war' from the US, the army of the DPRK will turn the US mainland into the theater of a nuclear war before the inviolable land of the DPRK turns into the one," the report said.

White House sends mixed messages

The threat from North Korea's nuclear and missile programs has been a top foreign policy priority for Trump since taking office in January, but the dangers posed by North Korea have taken center stage since the country test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month.

Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Trump risked going too far.

"I take exception to the President's comments because you've got to be sure that you can do what you say you're going to do. In other words, the old walk softly but carry a big stick," McCain told KTAR radio in Arizona.

Democrats slammed Trump, saying his comments were "unhinged."

"President Trump is not helping the situation with his bombastic comments," California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement.

Secretary of State Tillerson has maintained that the US is open to dialogue with North Korea, if it promises to abandon its development of nuclear weapons.

But the US military has flexed its muscles by conducting joint military drills with Japan and South Korea and conducting show-of-force operations.

Bluster on both sides

Threats may be flying between the US and North Korea, but little has changed in the assessment about Pyongyang's military capabilities and the chances of a US strike.

While US intelligence analysts have claimed that Pyongyang has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead, it's not believed that the capability has been tested, according to the sources.

However, there's debate within the intelligence community that Pyongyang has the required skill and technology. The Washington Post, which was first to publish details, reported that it was the analysis of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The threat from North Korea's nuclear and missile programs has been a top foreign policy priority for Trump since taking office in January, but the dangers posed by North Korea have taken center stage since the country test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month.

Weapons experts say both of those missiles, designed to carry nuclear warheads, could theoretically reach the US mainland, based on the range of two recent missile tests.

Threats against Guam

Guam, which houses important US military installations, has long been within the range of North Korea's missiles.

Pyongyang's threats against Guam came after Trump's "fire and fury" comment, but the North Korean statement was dated Tuesday, suggesting it was drafted in advance.

Another was released soon after which broadened the threats leveled against the US mainland.

"We do not hide that we already have in full readiness the diversified strategic nuclear strike means which have the US mainland in our striking range," the statement, which ran more than 1,700 words, said.

It ended with a belligerent threat typical of North Korea's statements: "Should the US finally opt for a reckless military adventure, defying the stern warning of our revolutionary armed forces, the tragic end of the American empire will be hastened."

Experts worry Trump's rhetoric could hurt the US by feeding North Korean insecurities and adding instability to an already tenuous situation.

"We have two inexperienced, impulsive presidents in control of these massive military machines," Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, told CNN on Monday.

"It's one thing to make a mistake intentionally, its another thing to stumble into a conflict ... either one -- Kim Jong Un or Donald Trump -- could miscalculate and let loose a war unlike anything we have seen since World War II."

Pyongyang's capabilities unchanged

Threats may be flying between the US and North Korea, but little has changed in the assessment about Pyongyang's military capabilities and the chances of a US strike.

While US intelligence analysts have claimed that Pyongyang has produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead, it is not believed that the capability has been tested, according to the sources.

However, there's debate within the intelligence community that Pyongyang has the required skill and technology. The Washington Post, which was first to publish details, reported that it was the analysis of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Weapons experts say both of those missiles, designed to carry nuclear warheads, could theoretically reach the US mainland, based on the range of two recent missile tests.

North Korea watchers have long maintained that a war between the US and North Korea is unlikely, largely for two reasons. The first being that both sides recognize how devastating another Korean War would be, the second being that the Kim regime, which values its survival above all else, knows it would lose.