Report: Trump's 'Bellicose Mood' Set Stage for Improvised 'Fire and Fury' Warning to N. Korea

President Donald Trump / Getty Images
August 9, 2017

President Donald Trump's "fire and fury" warning to North Korea on Tuesday was improvised and induced by Pyongyang's latest nuclear warhead developments and the president's resultant "bellicose mood," according to a new report.

Trump's warning directed at the North Korean regime was made while he looked down at what appeared to be prepared remarks. It turns out that document was a fact sheet relevant to the U.S. opioid crisis—the reason for the scheduled conference at which Trump spoke.

The comments regarding North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities were, in fact, "entirely improvised," the New York Times reported Wednesday.

Prior to the conference, the president was informed of a Washington Post article that discussed North Korea's progress in miniaturizing nuclear warheads, according to the Times. The newly developed capability would allow North Korea to fit a nuclear warhead on top of a ballistic missile. The threat put the president in a bellicose mood, according to a person who spoke with him prior to Tuesday's statement.

Trump reportedly expected questions regarding North Korea, and discussed possible responses to questions "in a general way" with advisers. He did not, however, decide on any specific language. 

Among those reportedly "taken by surprise" was White House chief of staff John Kelly, who has been with the president in Bedminster, N.J., during his working vacation.

The improvisation could further stem from the fact that advisers are divided on how to address the threat from North Korea, the Times reported.

The president's aides are divided on North Korea, as on other issues, with national security veterans like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, on one side and Stephen K. Bannon, the president's chief strategist, and his allies on the other.

While General McMaster and others consider North Korea a pre-eminent threat that requires a tough response, Mr. Bannon and others in the nationalist wing argue that it is really just a subset of the administration's conflict with China and that Mr. Trump should not give more prominence to an unstable rogue operator like Kim Jong-un, North Korea's leader.

Neither camp advocated language like "fire and fury," according to the Times report.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tempered the president's fiery warnings on Wednesday, stressing that the threat from North Korea had not changed, CNN reported

"Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours," he said, adding that "Americans should sleep well at night."

Tillerson also defended Trump's comments, remarking on the president's ability to speak in a relatable way to the Korean dictator.

"I think what the president was doing was sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn't seem to understand diplomatic language," Tillerson said.

Following the president's remarks Tuesday, North Korea responded that it would, if attacked, strike American military forces in Guam, according to CNN.

"The US should [remember], however, that once there observed a sign of action for 'preventive war' from the US, the army of the DPRK will turn the US mainland into the theater of a nuclear war before the inviolable land of the DPRK turns into the one," the report said.

North Korea escalated its response in a separate KCNA report on Wednesday, remarking that it was looking beyond Guam. The communist regime said it would hit mainland United States with preemptive strikes, with the use of nuclear weapons, should there be any sign the United States planned to strike North Korea first.

Trump's warning directed at North Korea on Tuesday was made during a scheduled press conference to discuss the administration's efforts to combat the country's opioid crisis.

"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States," Trump said. "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."