PYONGYANG, North Korea — A North Korean plan to fire four missiles near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam will be ready for Kim Jong Un’s consideration in days, state media has reported, as an unprecedented exchange of military threats between Washington and Pyongyang intensifies.
The intermediate-range missiles would be fired east and over Japan before landing around 18 to 25 miles off the coast of the tiny island if the plan is implemented, according to state-run KCNA.
Guam is nearly 1,900 miles from North Korea.
The plan is the latest provocation in a back-and-forth with Washington, which came to a boil on Tuesday when President Donald Trump appeared to threaten nuclear war on the pariah state.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said. “They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
The North Korean threat has been on the Trump administration’s foreign-policy agenda since the president took office in January, but it has taken center stage since Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month that it says are capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
North Korea responded to Trump’s comments through a state media report, criticizing the U.S. president for having “let out a load of nonsense about ‘fire and fury'” and accused him of “failing to grasp the on-going grave situation.”
The report said “sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him.”
North Korea has also slammed U.S. and United Nations sanctions placed on the country over its recent increase in missile testing, and has used those measures to justify its renewed aggressiveness.
The sudden escalation in tensions in the past week came after U.S. intelligence analysts assessed North Korea had produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead, according to multiple sources familiar with the analysis of North Korea’s missile and nuclear program.
Such a development would mean North Korea is a step closer to having the capability of striking the U.S. with a nuclear-tipped missile.
There is no indication the Hwasong-12 missiles mentioned in the Guam plan would be tipped with nuclear warheads.
The White House was accused of sending mixed messages on its North Korea stance, with Trump’s fiery comments juxtaposed with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s more diplomatic approach, which focused on dialogue.
But those messages are beginning to converge.
Tillerson on Wednesday backed Trump’s comment while trying to allay fears that a military confrontation was imminent.
And Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday also supported Trump’s controversial remarks.
“The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people,” Mattis said in a statement, using an acronym for North Korea.
Trump’s comments have been slammed as incendiary by his political opposition as well as some foreign powers, but have been supported by others.
The KCNA report includes detailed provisional plans to launch four rockets “above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan,” and specified they would fly 2,000 miles for 1,065 seconds as a “crucial warning to the U.S.”
After that flight path, the missiles would also have to travel over the Japanese prefecture of Ehime.
North Korea’s estimated splashdown of the missiles would place them just outside Guam’s 12-nautical-mile territorial waters, but well within its 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
The Korean People’s Army Strategic Force will present the final plan for the launch to Kim by mid-August and “wait for his order,” the report said.
Should Kim give the go-ahead, it would not be the first time a North Korean rocket has crossed over Japanese territory.
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said his government “can never tolerate North Korea’s provocations,” and urged the rogue state to comply with U.N. resolutions regarding its missile and nuclear programs.
A South Korean military official said there have been no indications Pyongyang is readying a strike.
“Currently, there is no unusual movement related to a direct provocation,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Roh Jae-cheon said.
Some analysts do not think Kim will follow through on this very specific threat against the U.S. territory.
North Korea is “trying to ratchet up the threat to create political pressure in the U.S. and elsewhere to get talks,” said Carl Schuster, a Hawaii Pacific University professor and former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
“They’ve noticed that we’ve never sought conflict with an adversary who can hit our territory (and they) hope that this (threat) will force a more diplomatic line.”