An ABC journalist argued Tuesday that when President Donald Trump said the United States would "totally destroy" North Korea if necessary, his words bordered on being a threat to commit a "war crime"
Trump castigated North Korea's nuclear ambitions and belligerent behavior during a speech before the United Nations on Tuesday.
"No nation on earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles," Trump said. "The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."
ABC's Martha Raddatz said during the network's live coverage of the speech that Trump made a "very big threat" with dire consequences.
"People do understand that there is a military option, the United States could destroy North Korea, but not without a great loss of life in South Korea and possibly to U.S. forces as well," she said.
Host George Stephanopoulos expanded on the conditions under which the United States would act in such a way.
"If you read the president's words, he said the conditions for totally destroying North Korea would be if forced to defend ourselves and our allies," he said.
"You can read that possibly to even open up a justification for preventative war against North Korea," he put to ABC News chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran.
"That is a potential justification, but the words ‘totally destroying' a nation of 25 million people, that borders on the threat of committing a war crime," Moran responded.
Trump's predecessor President Barack Obama occasionally used similar language, but in the context of explaining why he wouldn't order a strike on North Korea.
"We could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals," he told CBS News in 2016. "But aside from the humanitarian costs of that, they are right next door to our vital ally, Republic of Korea."