The United States has been secretly engaged in an attempt at back channel diplomacy with North Korea for months despite the increasingly bellicose public rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang.
In the latest round of escalating threats President Donald Trump said the US military was “locked and loaded” while Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, accused him of “driving the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”. Other nations, including Russia and China, called for calm.
In a tweet issued from his golf course in New Jersey, Mr Trump said: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong-un will find another path!”
Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2017
The term “locked and loaded” was popularised in the 1949 war film “Sands of Iwo Jima” starring John Wayne.
He later said that Mr Kim “will regret it fast” if he continues his threats to US territories and allies.
Mr Trump said he hoped North Korea “fully” understood the gravity of his words, warning Pyongyang against taking any military action against the US or its allies.
“I hope that they are going to fully understand the gravity of what I said, and what I said is what I mean,” Mr Trump told reporters. “Those words are very easy to understand.”
The other path Mr Trump mentioned in his tweet may have been a reference to a senior US diplomat who has been engaged in back-channel diplomacy.
There have been regular contacts between Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea policy, and Pak Song Il, a senior North Korean diplomat, at Pyongyang’s UN mission.
It is known as the “New York channel” as the two men met in that city, and could form the foundation for any future negotiations.
It was Mr Yun who went to Pyongyang in June to discuss the release of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old US student imprisoned in North Korea. Warmbier returned in a coma and suffering brain damage, and died soon after his return to the US. He is the only US diplomat in contact with any North Korean counterpart.
Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, hinted at the potential route for dialogue last week when he said: “We have other means of communication open to them, to certainly hear from them if they have a desire to want to talk.”
China said it would “prevent” a pre-emptive strike by the US on its…