BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Donald Trump was speaking in his own words when he vowed to retaliate against North Korean aggression with “fire and fury,” but top advisers were aware of the tone he planned to strike, a White House spokeswoman said Wednesday, as the administration sought to provide clarity on its strategy on the Korean Peninsula.
“The words were his own,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But she added that “the tone and strength of the message were discussed beforehand” with advisers, including new chief of staff John Kelly.
The White House sought to provide more context to the president’s Tuesday statement at his New Jersey golf club, where he had convened a meeting on the opioid epidemic during his 17-day vacation. Officials also stressed Wednesday that Trump and Kelly had been in conversations with members of the National Security Council before the president made the comments. They did not detail whom specifically Trump and Kelly spoke with.
The president’s fiery rhetoric came as tensions mounted between the U.S. and North Korea. After Trump’s “fire and fury” comment, Pyongyang announced it was examining plans for attacking the tiny Pacific island of Guam.
The escalating threats followed reports that North Korea has mastered a crucial technology needed to strike the United States with a nuclear missile. The U.N. Security Council this weekend adopted new, tougher sanctions, seeking to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Trump’s statement was followed by remarks from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said Americans should “have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” adding, “Americans should sleep well at night.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis offered a similarly tough-worded statement Wednesday, saying the North Korean regime should cease any consideration of actions that would “lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”
Mattis warned that any action by North Korea would be grossly overmatched by the U.S. and that while the U.S. is pursuing diplomatic solutions, the combined military power of America and its allies is the most robust on Earth.
Jim Carafano, a Heritage Foundation scholar who advised Trump’s transition team on foreign policy, said the messages conveyed to North Korea were aimed at different audiences: Trump to the American people, Tillerson to the diplomatic community and Mattis to the military establishment.
By using stark terms, Carafano said Trump aimed to tell “the people who put him into office that you voted for me to be a tough commander in chief and I will defend the nation.”