North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reviewed plans to fire missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam but will hold off, state media said. Although prepared for “the enveloping fire at Guam”, the North said it would watch what “the foolish Yankees” do before taking a decision.
Crucially, indications are that Mr Kim would watch the US before making any decision, signaling an apparent deceleration in the provocative rhetoric. Correspondents say that after days of menacing threats it might seem that Kim Jong-un could be in the mood to finally hit the pause button – but in a nation as secretive as North Korea, one can never be sure. Analysts say it could simply mean Pyongyang is not fully ready to launch an attack on Guam, so it could just be buying more time.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in meanwhile has urged the US not to launch an attack on the Korean peninsula without its consent. The two countries’ defence agreement states that they must “consult together” when either is threatened.
South Korea and China – North Korea’s closest ally – have been urging calm and a renewed push for diplomatic resolutions.
China’s foreign ministry on Monday reiterated its “suspension for suspension proposal”, where North Korea stops its missile tests in exchange for a freeze on military exercises by the US and South Korea.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis earlier warned that any attack could quickly escalate into war, and if Pyongyang fired a missile towards Guam, “then it’s game on”. He also sought to reassure residents of Guam, home to US military bases and about 160,000 people, that they were well-protected and if a missile was fired, “we’ll take it out”.
Some quick facts about Guam:
- The 209 sq mile volcanic and coral island in the Pacific between the Philippines and Hawaii.
- It is a “non-incorporated” US territory, with a population of about 163,000.
- That means people born in Guam are US citizens, have an elected governor and House Representative, but cannot vote for a president in US national elections.
- US military bases cover about a quarter of the island. About 6,000 personnel are based there and there are plans to move in thousands more.
- It was a key US base in World War Two, and remains a vital staging post for US operations.