State Dept: US government speaking with 'one voice' on North Korea threat

ABC News' Pentagon reporters and security contributors weigh in on Trump's 'fire and fury' comments.
22:42 | 08/09/17

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Transcript for State Dept: US government speaking with 'one voice' on North Korea threat
Hey everyone I'm on the Nevada in New York while the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert just wrapped up her daily press briefing. And that he mice faction to the kind of questions about North Korea prompted of course by president Trump's remarks yesterday and the flurry. Up coverage and questions that a resulted from that we've got it covered. From every angle check it out this is doing about an a conversation today in our Washington DC bureau. Joining us from the newsroom right now my colleague just an official who covers national security global affairs and the White House. Also colonel Steve gang years. Is of course an ABC news contributor and over at the Pentagon we've got to Florida and joining us there Stephanie Ramos and Louis Martinez who port. Cover at the Department of Defense for ABC skies hello to everyone thanks for being here. Ever get started a conversation just affect it in case you miss this though here's what everyone is talking about. President Trump's remarks yesterday three short sentences that it set off a flurry of conversations we'll talk about it on the back and here's what he had to say. North Korea. Best not make getting what the rest of the United States. They will be met. With fire and fury. Like the world has never see. He has been very breath. Beyond a normal state. And as I said they won't be met with fire fury and friendly power. The likes of which this world has never see before. All right Justin and colonel king your let's head over to you first on this just put this into context because. They were three unexpected sentence says we didn't know he's going to be commenting on North Korea yesterday and this is set off a ton of questions. Help me put this into context here how big a deal is it for the president to deliver those kinds of remarks in that way. Well I mean these are. Huge comments this is everybody who saw this as sort of rhetoric that matches the kind of bombast that you see from the North Korean leader so. It took everybody back in the news room that's for sure we weren't expecting it. The question is where his own aides expecting it and from there is a big question mark there. That the way they're they're saying it now is that. He wanted to send a strong tone he knew that he was gonna take a hard line that his aides supported that decision he knew after the Washington Post story came out. And you may want to say something take a hard line but those specific words fire and fury. That he didn't really scrub with his aides and I think. The way it came out surprised a lot of people. He'd been known to use those words behind closed doors sort of with his aides privately but on that specific language. What's not approved at a time with his own national security team. At least that's what the White House they're not telling us allies and we've heard that basically what's not so I think that did catch a lot of people. Prize. At it from a historical perspective you go back and you look at Harry Truman in this kind of language that he is very similar to what president front he's yesterday. But you also think about the context of what was going on when Truman used those words it's since then in three in fact throughout most of the Cold War. US presidents have been. Very measured in the way that they react to sort of the bombastic Stalinist state the Communist kind of rhetoric with a propaganda. That's intended agitated and flame. And that US president since did sort of been done the Teddy Roosevelt of walking softly and carry a big stick. I think we saw yesterday is a first time since really Harry Truman we've seen that sort of chest thumping. Although all natural threat with the threat of my own and so from a historical context. It's very interesting but it's also very big change from the way president have been doing business for the past forty years. So Stephanie Elie let's talk about it from the Pentagon's perspective now because there is a little bit up his pension now this came up in the state department's press briefing as well. Is it a military response is that a political response of the diplomatic response from the US. There's some tension in their talk to me about the military angle on this how with the Pentagon viewing the president's remarks and the fall out since that. Lana we're definitely seeing more diplomatic approach from the Defense Secretary mad as. And the rest of his national security team and in in key people that we've heard from difference and secretary of state Tillis and but. Despite all of this rhetoric that we've heard from North Korean leader Kim Jung in on. And president trump these are just. Words words have consequences of course but. These aren't threats from North Korea that we've heard before for years and years of course it's a little different now because they have a different capabilities. But there are no signs here at the Pentagon. Insinuating that the U the US will be first to launch some sort of an attack. At North Korea that is not official that's not what we've seen here. Not thinking what you're doing obscenities in your reinforcing. Commitment it offensive can it. Two South Korea and the ironclad commitment to South Korea and the US. South Korea alliance is ironclad they can't because the United States is committed to their self defense if anything happens from them if he Korean side. The US is also doing the same with. Japan. You know they have a Slovene in South Korea for US military forces it's called fight tonight. That means they are ready to fight at any moment to provide fence of the four South Korea. And that's what they're promoting here in terms language in response to every other rhetoric that we're hearing. Not only from the north Koreans but also from prison truck. The military and that's their function the military's always ready to deploy are always rated by wherever that means you but we've. In recent weeks and I've spoken to some people here who are already in and that. That no military units aren't positioning themselves in a way where if something were to go down there they are ready to ago we heard from Defense Secretary Matt today at a statement. Using very strong language. Saying that North Korea would not weighing in at war with the US but the military is ready to take that action. If needed so. That's their functions are ready to go open when needed to you and Hannah of Tyler go ahead there. I was also gonna say you know what we heard from Heather Nauert at that says that are freaking is that the White House the State Department and the Pentagon are on the same page on this on so. They may be different is different isn't holy in the statements but the message is Hussein and that is that he had been don't want me and North Korea to continue on as provocative. Yet there if it's very important point here right on messaging that words matter as he said and and Heather Nauert did have to answer that in the press briefing actually think we have that little bit of sound. Let's hear how a secretary of state Tillerson answered some questions overnight in response to president comes to mark. And then how Heather Nauert respond in the press briefing. So I think the response to that Koreans rhetoric is just ratcheted up louder and louder and more threatening. They the president wants presidency is considered a strong message to North Korea and language to him yeah. You seem to understand diplomatic. They can present just wanted to be clear. Reid regime. Yes. Questionable ability to defend itself we'll within itself and its allies. Nothing. We don't miss its ability to miscalculation on their part. And some of you may disagree with that's been the United States is on the same Haines. Whether it's the White House the State Department the Department of Defense we are speaking with one voice. And the world is in fact speaking when with one voice and we saw that as it came out of the UN Security Council with a resolution that passed. Less than a week ago the United States along with other nations condemn North Korea for there destabilizing activities that continued to take part of that. To use ICBM launches in less than in less than a month's period of time the world remains very concerned. All right so current angered and death and let me ask you this now obviously. The words have been going on for a while now between president trump and Kim Jung learned there's been an escalation of tensions over the last few months. But the big question then is. Still white now what does that mean what is the actual threat that we're talking about here and what could be US potentially do about it. Well look him the way I see it is that the the threat is huge arms and feet can talk more about this. The artillery. Fire that that north screens it rained down on south without even deploying nuclear using nuclear weapons is enormous immense immense threat. And as a result. The conventional wisdom here is that the US would not. Want to start a war when North Korea and that he wouldn't do so with out South Korea's approval and that is a high bar for the South Koreans. And the fact that the north Koreans now have an ICBM a missile that can reach the US may not be that far that the South Koreans are looking at. The that's not necessarily a war starter for then maybe for us but any. We're we're for president trump but any decision like that with a conventional wisdom is has to be carefully vetted with the south. I think I'm not saying its plan to but I think there's need the ability for the administration he's a good cop bad cop routine here. They can show the president is somebody that's out there he's angry he's fired up but. His national security apparatus the State Department Defense Department. Are all saying look calm down calm down you know nothing's really changed here all we're doing is pushing back on a couple key statements so. That the president has this whole national security apparatus behind him to help guide him in his decision. Kim Jong-un has himself. He is a megalomaniac he is a dictator who tends has really no exposure to the outside world so he knows what he knows and he knows what he wants no. So the opportunity for for misjudgment certainly lies with something Kim Jong-un would. That said he has not irrational the man wants to survive and regime survival is the ultimate goal. So he's not gonna do something where he knows that they're going to be fifteen thermonuclear weapons raining down on North Korea. So I think we need to understand what the North Korean motivation is here and work within that as we go forward. And and when you talk about our survival. You can't forget that the president and president propped as a political monster and he is it a political and watched to he is. And making these these statements although alarmingly appeal very much to his days and I think that's a lot of what is he may have been in those statements. As you see everyone else sort of dialing them back for him. Mr. and I think in the next couple days what we need to really watch here is what is the North Korean reaction Ari did have we escalated to. Well the rhetoric come down. But they're also going to be what they call indicators and warnings where the intelligence analysts will be looking at things like overhead imagery and will be looking. And what's going on in the north is their mobilization are they doing something different. If the north from where to mobilize for war they would have to pull people out of jobs pull people out in the field. It's very expensive not just from manpower perspective but it's also expensive from the drain on the economy it would it would cause. So we're going to be looking for things that indicate change if diplomatic relations with other countries continue to be normalized if we see. Factories if we see normal day to day life continuing North Korea that would be a good sign that things are there are not gonna advance past this fiery rhetoric. But Stephen doesn't let me ask you this because the good cop bad copying only works if that cop is willing to take action right yup it's so we have. Some kind of precedent not that the two situations are all related but we saw in Syria president trump is not afraid to make a strike to send a message. Do we think there could be any possibility of the same kind of thing when it comes to North Korea. It back to Justin's point the idea of a preemptive strike here has consequences that it didn't or would never have in Syria so you have. Two of our key allies Japan and South Korea that are within EB even the medium missiles that North Korea have. A well within their range much less the newer ones that we've seen. Launch so any kind of if preemptive strike on North Korea risks. Tens of thousands of artillery shells per hour raining down on soul in the outskirts the potential for biological and nuclear weapons we don't want to scare people but they're all sorts of nasty things of the North Korean regime can do so any kind of preemptive strike has. Equities in Japan and South Korea and even China. Which I think it's part of what the administration is doing. Little bit this this chest thumping just bumping and so fire up the rhetoric to get the Chinese attention to say look. You can take care of the North Korean problems stop pretend you can't. 85% of their economy goes across your borders if you want to stop them today you can do it you better do it before we do something you're not gonna. So Lily and Stephanie let me ask you this now because even back in March. The president was asked about him pressuring China to try to get them to act and he said if China. Is not going to go go solve North Korea. Then we will basically saying the US will be willing to to go it alone if necessary in again this could just be rhetoric part of the good cop bad cop thing. We don't know but that is what the president said. That look Steve rates also the issue that there's a larger regional investment when it comes to the US military. There any sense of what the landscape is exactly how many US troops are there what's at stake. For America in the region. Well there they're about 80000 American troops in between South Korea and Japan alone 20500. In South Korea 54000. In Japan. Virulent shouldn't they logistical bases that are needed there and we're talking about Guam now. Guam is 7000 military personal mostly. One air force base and it won naval base there. So that but the reason other founding not lomb is because that air base is home to B one bombers. On the B one bombers in the news keep flying missions. Over South Korea in response to the ICBM launches back in July. And most recently in last night. And actually I think that mission was referenced in that statement. By North Korea that way talked about. Enveloping and Guam in fire and kind of like a response to. President cut as. I'm absolutely and and the regional aspect of this is something that we shouldn't forget the indeed these are other issues at the US also has to tackle. You know Walt while North Korea is is building. Guns and missiles they're getting support from from Russia and China and these are other issues issues that the president all things to focus on and a tried to. Basically stop and that's why did this recent sanctions that were displaced and prayer song born to trying constrict them economically. So let's Stephen and Justin let's talk about that those sanctions here there is somewhat of a holistic approach right as goes into all foreign policy. Diplomatic political military and cell line Heather Nauert they were saying that they've seen some sort of progress. When it comes to the approach so far what have we seen improved in the way of a pressurized we'll North Korea. Well I'll over the weekend was proms one of his biggest victories when it comes to confronting North Korea which was to get UN Security Council to unanimously approved these. Massive new sanctions. Which is why. To so many of us it was so confusing to see him sort of sort throw that aside and then getting to this tit for tat winds. Would with this rhetoric. That is just completely distracted from that what what many people cause of an accomplishment. I think there there are two things consider here. The sanctions that were put on by the UN worthy quote legitimate economy and I use that term loosely but that is the economy that can be easily affected. By the UN member states. The problem is is that China often will cut to clamp down on North Korea but then a couple months later the lead and up when nobody's looking. And things are back to normal within 45 months. The other problem is that North Korea has a very well oiled machine. Allows them to cheated to lie to be able to ship things around different parts the world by using. Bills awaiting that say it's one thing when it's actually another. So the ability in the north Koreans to cheat and the ability inability of the Chinese to continue the sanctions that promised a real problem. Let me just say. That what the UN address is only part of the economy the real part of the economy that the US needs to take on now is the illegitimate part. Did that part that relies on drugs. Cigarettes car smuggling. Well money laundering around the world. These are the kinds of illicit activities that fund the regime that pay for the Mercedes-Benz as the paid for the fine scotches. It keeps the Kim family in power. So yes it is we the administration's and the right thing in the and gone to the UN to go after the legitimate part of the economy can be affected through through global banks but there's this. This other sort of drug world kind of mechanism that funds all the illicit parts of the North Korean economy. And that's what the US has yet to take on wasteful pool was capabilities. So here's the other thing when it comes to messaging writing about to go around the morning a court hearing get everybody's reaction to that that the president's remarks. Really cut off alarm bells were a lot of people there was a lot of anxiety a lot of questions and has been some clarification since and from members of the administration and secretary Tillerson saying look Americans can sleep easy can sleep well. But a lot of people are really concerned about what the potential impact an actual fallout could be. So Stephen desolate to start with you is the consensus here that cooler heads will prevail that there won't be a further escalation. And. While that I mean that's what we've all and that's what the when I was making early years that. The conventional was yours there's a lot of moving parts to you. Let's strike on North Korea and the hope is that. US would not too painless lose in some way forced to retaliate. And when you go back to that message I think one of the points that with him from this morning that Martha our colleague Martha Raddatz is making this morning with that. In what got so many people so freaked out is that he loved and that's because he said. North Korea that's not make any more threats to the United States that's how it started get his comment well. The first thing they did was make another huge threat which it some sort of drew a red line and they crossed it immediately. Which are known to do they depicting it these threats though that was just I mean that's sort of added to the anxiety. That people took away from that statement. These are these are these are frightening times and unity we all talked to friends and family and their pace we packer Madsen and and the the big city area. So these are scary times because it's the first time really since the end of the Cold War where in the United States has been threatened. By is some sort of of an evil force that says we're gonna rain down death instruction on your country now we've dealt with terrorism. But all the other wars have been in Afghanistan and Iraq and other parts the world. But the American people haven't been threatened in a long time. And and we're dealing with a mad man that we haven't seen since the likes of Khrushchev war or somebody like that during the Cold War so. Yes this is that this is a concerning time but I'm an optimist I think this'll get. Put back in the box I think it'll continue to percolate at some point they were of the world community is going to have to solve the North Korean problem. It's not going to be the US and we need to remember that I know it's small consequence but we've only seen him shoot one missile. And we don't know that the nuclear warhead on that will work we don't know there will survive we don't know that he has targeting. So let's not build this threat into something or think you know it's the whole Russian. Nuclear forces is is is ready to firing at every American city so we need to keep this in perspective let's stay positive and and hopefully we can work through this. Stephanie and really what about overeat you guys optimism where you you packing about to get out of the city. The right here now. And Steve raises a really good point we can talk about this only want them in but can jump and is the wild factor here there's really no predicting one what could come at us. Yeah I mean we wanted to ask Steve hearing you you know the area intimately. Do you think that. Kenyon on ending its hit since he is such a wildcard in this. How he can interpret the rhetoric I mean how is gonna react and does this mean we have to be even lower. For being cautious here and we are concerned should we be even more concerned I'm giving it his unpredictability. I think I think Louis he's unpredictable us but I think he's a perfectly rational human being I think he wants regime survival. It will do anything to ensure that the Kim thing and we stays in power. So from that perspective we have a way to understand him. I go back to the point that he knows what he knows any lives in this cocoon this bubble that is totally shut off from the rest the world so he has no perspective. No perspective is ever forced autumn he doesn't have to look at news from around the world from the US. From any other country doesn't have to two really appreciate how weak his military is vis a vis the US or even South Korea and Japan. So my real concern here is that he may be thinking is acting in an and rational way. But he may not understand the consequences where the capabilities he's he's actually things. I look at it has his insurance policy his nuclear weapons or his insurance policy. But it's one that he wants to hold never hash out because if you hashes out its its virtual suicide. And I think that I think that's fighting ignited radio calls this morning. For ABC and one of the questions are kept kicking ass was. Can the US negotiate with North Korea so that they can actually real back or rein in these this nuclear program its ballistic missile program. And when I told them ones you know that we have negotiated with a victory in the past in 1990 we new have a nuclear deal. Where they scale backing the program in the went back into it so even if you were engaged and can be trusted Q maintain. The particle that I mean as part of the issue here that prospector written Korea. Right right that's an adult with have to wait and see note take it day by day see what happens but for now the military is preparing for. You know before anything and and until they get you know when they get that official word is when. They will act but for now it's kind of just wait and see. Right now then we will all wait and see his seat again you're testing officials Stephanie Roberts and Louis Martinez thanks so much for being here. Give thanks and thanks all you for watching as plumber beaten but abcnews.com. Anytime for continuing coverage of this story. And many others now I'm comment Abbas and I'll see you back here since.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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