Over the past week, escalating rhetoric between President Donald Trump and North Korea has made Americans increasingly concerned about what the future holds. After Trump promised "retaliation with fire and fury unlike any the world has seen before," North Korea responded that its military was "examining the operational plan" to strike areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic missiles, according to state-run news agency KCNA.
Today, North Korea said that leader Kim Jong Un was briefed on his military's plans to launch missiles into waters near Guam as part of an effort to create "enveloping fire" near the US military hub in the Pacific.
The comments, while typically belligerent, are significant because they appeared to signal a path to defuse a deepening crisis with Washington over a weapons program that is seen as having the ability to be able to send a nuclear missile to the US mainland.
During an inspection of the army's Strategic Forces, Kim praised the military for drawing up a "close and careful plan" and said he would watch the "foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees" a little more before deciding whether to give an order for the missile test, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.
Kim said North Korea will conduct the planned missile launches if the "Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity" and that the United States should "think reasonably and judge property" to avoid shame, the news agency said.
Lobbing missiles toward Guam would be a deeply provocative act from the U.S. perspective. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United Sates would take out any such missile seen to be heading for American soil and declared any such North Korean attack could lead to war.
Kim's comments, however, with their conditional tone, seemed to hold out the possibility that friction could ease if the United States made some sort of gesture that Pyongyang considered a move to back away from previous "extremely dangerous reckless actions." The United States and South Korea plan next week, however, to start annual defensive military drills that the North claims are preparation for invasion.
On Monday, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford held a series of meetings with senior South Korean military and political officials and the local media. He also made comments that appeared to be an attempt to ease anxiety over tit-for-tat threats between President Donald Trump and North Korea while also showing a willingness to back up Trump's warnings if need be.
Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States wants to peacefully resolve tensions with North Korea. But Washington is also ready to use the "full range" of its military capabilities in case of provocation, Dunford said.
Dunford is visiting South Korea, Japan and China after a week in which Trump declared the US military "locked and loaded" and said he was ready to unleash "fire and fury" if North Korea continued to threaten the United States.
The Korean People's Army's Strategic Forces said last week that it would finalise by mid-August a plan to fire four intermediate ballistic missiles near Guam, which is about 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) from Pyongyang, and send it to Kim for his approval.
The North Korean plans to fire near Guam are based on the Hwasong-12, a new intermediate range missile the country successfully flight-tested for the first time in May. The liquid-fuel missile is designed to be fired from road mobile launchers and has been previously described by North Korea as built for attacking Alaska and Hawaii.
The North followed the May launch with two flight tests of its Hwasong-14 ICBM last month. Analysts said that a wide swath of the continental United States, including Los Angeles and Chicago, could be within reach of those missiles, once perfected.
The latest Korea Central News Agency report said Kim ordered his military to be prepared to launch the missiles toward Guam at any time. If the "planned fire of power demonstration" is carried out because of US recklessness, Kim said it will be "the most delightful historic moment when the Hwasong artillerymen will wring the windpipes of the Yankees and point daggers at their necks," the news agency reported.
North Korea is angry about new United Nations sanctions over its expanding nuclear weapons and missile program and annual military drills between Washington and Seoul beginning later this month that Pyongyang condemns as invasion rehearsals.
Kim said that the United States must "make a proper option first and show it through action, as it committed provocations after introducing huge nuclear strategic equipment into the vicinity of the peninsula" and that it "should stop at once arrogant provocations" against North Korea, the Korean Central News Agency said.
Trump has declared the US military "locked and loaded" and said he was ready to unleash "fire and fury" if North Korea continued to threaten the United States.
South Korean President Moon on Monday called for a peaceful solution to the nuclear standoff, saying that "there must not be another war on the Korean Peninsula," according to his office.
In a meeting with top aides at the presidential Blue House, Moon said South Korea would work to safeguard peace on the peninsula in cooperation with the United States and other countries. Moon said North Korea must stop issuing menacing statements and provocations.