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Dandong (Liaoning province, China): Chinese tourists are seen on a boat taking them from the Chinese side of the Yalu River for sightseeing close to the shores of North Korea on Thursday.—Reuters
Dandong (Liaoning province, China): Chinese tourists are seen on a boat taking them from the Chinese side of the Yalu River for sightseeing close to the shores of North Korea on Thursday.—Reuters

BEDMINSTER (New Jersey): President Donald Trump issued a new threat to North Korea on Friday, saying the US military was “locked and loaded” as Pyongyang accused him of driving the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war and world powers expressed alarm.

The Pentagon said the United States and South Korea would proceed as planned with a joint military exercise in 10 days, an action sure to further antagonise North Korea. Meanwhile, Russia, China and Germany voiced dismay at the escalating rhetoric from Pyongyang and Washington.

Trump, vacationing at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, kept up the war of words and again referenced North Korea’s leader in his latest bellicose remarks towards Pyongyang this week.

“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” he wrote on Twitter. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” The term “locked and loaded”, popularised in the 1949 war film Sands of Iwo Jima, refers to preparations for shooting a gun.

Friday’s tweet by the Republican president came shortly after the North Korean state news agency, KCNA, put out a statement blaming him for the boiling tensions.

“Trump is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war, making such outcries as ‘the US will not rule out a war against the DPRK (North Korea)’,” KCNA said.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a previously unveiled joint Russian-Chinese plan under which North Korea would freeze missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. Neither the United States nor North Korea has embraced the plan.

Lavrov said the risks of a military conflict over North Korea’s nuclear programme are very high and Moscow is deeply worried by the threats from Washington and Pyongyang.

Tension in the region has risen since reclusive North Korea staged two nuclear bomb tests last year and launched two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July in defiance of world powers. Trump has said he would not allow Pyongyang to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States.

KCNA said on Thursday the North Korean army would complete plans in mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land in the sea 30 to 40km from Guam. The US Pacific island territory is home to a strategically located US airbase, a Navy installation, a Coast Guard group and roughly 6,000 US military personnel.

The annual joint US-South Korean military exercise, called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, is expected to proceed as scheduled starting on Aug 21, said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman.

Trump’s latest comments were a continuation of days of incendiary rhetoric, including his warning on Tuesday that the United States would unleash “fire and fury” on Pyongyang if it threatened the United States and Thursday’s comments warning of grave consequences if North Korea carried out its Guam plans.

Amid the heated words, South Koreans are buying more ready-to-eat meals that could be used in an emergency and the government is planning to expand nationwide civil defence drills planned for on Aug 23.

Hundreds of thousands of troops and huge arsenals are arrayed on both sides of the tense demilitarised zone between the two Koreas.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2017