Tillerson urges calm on North Korea, says no imminent threat

WATCH LIVE: State Department expected to address North Korean threats in news briefing

Mattis on Trump's 'fire and fury' remark: 'The rhetoric is up to the President. This is my rhetoric'

Earlier this week, Gen. Kim Rak-Gyom, who heads North Korea's rocket command, said in a statement carried by state media that Pyongyang was "about to take" military action near the USA territory of Guam.

Pyongyang's state-run KCNA news agency issued an update on its strike plans after Trump's incendiary comments Tuesday that threats to the United States from Pyongyang would be met with "fire and fury".

And U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday appeared to downplay the possibility of armed conflict. Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo has publicly suggested that removing leader Kim Jong Un is the answer to the North Korea dilemma.

The newly public report from US intelligence agencies seemed to spur Trump, but Tillerson called for full steam ahead on his policy of "peaceful pressure", after a series of meetings at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila, the Philippines.

But asked whether the United States was ready if North Korea did commit a hostile act, he responded: 'We are ready'.

"Is that what the United Kingdom would do if a nation threatened a nuclear-tipped missile launch against any of the UK's territories?"

Analysts say the new sanctions could cut off roughly one-third of North Korea's estimated $3 billion in annual exports and put a huge dent in the funding Pyongyang needs for its weapons and nuclear programs. And he insists his administration has "done a lot of modernization" and "a lot of renovation" already. "It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before", Trump tweeted.

The United States and South Korea remain technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty. "However, right now, Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson, Ambassador [to the U.N. Nikki] Haley, you can see the American effort is diplomatically led, it has diplomatic traction, it is gaining diplomatic results".

What they do to their own people in North Korea, I can't tell you on television. To the contrary, he said the latest threat from the North suggested the current strategy was working. He said he had been in touch with the White House and there was no change in the threat level.

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If the missiles were actually launched at Guam - North Korean officials hope to drop them about 40 kilometers offshore - it would be the first time North Korean missiles landed so close to an American territory, and it would force the USA military to decide if it would attempt to shoot them down.

But Mattis would not elaborate on any near term readiness enhancement measures the Pentagon has undertaken for America's nuclear forces and missile defenses.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday. But if the US military is preparing for a major conflict, there is little evidence of it. And despite Trump's public bluster, the US has reportedly been carrying on quiet, back-channel negotiations with North Korea through that country's United Nations representatives.

"The rhetoric is up to the President", Mattis said.

"I don't think I want to tell the adversary what we've done", Mattis said. And it's not the first time that officials within the Trump administration have sent conflicting signals on Pyongyang. Trump signed an executive order in January to initiate a review of the country's nuclear policy.

But back home, there is great concern over the tough talk from Trump.

"There had not been any discussions about escalating the rhetoric in response to Kim's statements or about the possible effects of doing that", the official said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert will hold the briefing.

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