President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un showed no public signs of backing away Friday from a potential war on the peninsula, but Trump acknowledged that diplomatic "backchannels" were at work to defuse the crisis.
When asked about "progress on the diplomatic backchannel," Trump deflected the question while indicating that direct or indirect talks were continuing at some level.
"Well, we don't want to talk about progress, we don't want to talk about backchannels," Trump said. He went on to repeat his charge that previous administrations had ignored the North Korean threat "and I had no choice but to take it on, and I'm taking it on."
"And we'll either be very, very successful quickly (on the diplomatic front) or we're going to be very, very successful in a different way quickly" if it comes to a military confrontation with Kim, Trump said.
Trump spoke at his Bedminster, N.J., estate on Friday, where he met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday that Tillerson and Haley had the lead in seeking a peaceful solution to the war of words that has set the region and the world on edge.
During the week, Trump ignored the pleas of allies to tone down his rhetoric. On Tuesday, he warned that North Korea was risking "fire and fury like the world has never seen, and he said Thursday that his "fire and fury" statement was perhaps not "tough enough."
In a Tweet early Friday, Trump went further, stating that the U.S. military was "locked and loaded" for a potential war on the peninsula. He later said that only his critics would take offense at his language.
"Well, you know, my critics are only saying that because it's me. If somebody else uttered the exact same words that I uttered, they'd say what a great statement, what a wonderful statement," he said.
Trump and North Korea's typically bombastic propaganda outlets later traded inflammatory rhetoric in what The Atlantic magazine characterized as a "nuclear game of chicken."
On Guam, officials showed that they were taking the threat of nuclear attack seriously. They issued a fact sheet to the island's 160,000 residents on how best to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear missile attack by North Korea.
"Do not look at the flash or fireball -- it can blind you," said the fact sheet posted on social media Thursday. "Take cover behind anything that might offer protection."
North Korea has said that its military was drawing up plans for approval by Kim Jong-un for the launch in mid-August of a salvo of four missiles that would splash down within 25 miles of Guam. Recent U.S. intelligence reports have said that North Korea may have succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to fit atop a missile.
Trump said that if Kim "utters one threat, in the form of an overt threat, which by the way he has been uttering for years, and his family has been uttering for years, or if he does anything with respect to Guam, or any place else that's an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast."
North Korean outlets said that Trump's remarks showed that he feared North Korea's advancing nuclear and missile programs.
A commentary in Rodong Sinmun, the outlet of North Korea's Workers Party, said that "the U.S. has been seized with anxiety and terror" since North Korea conducted its second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test last month.
The United States is now "fearful of when weapons of Korea will shower shells on its military bases for aggression and its mainland," the paper said, accusing Trump by name of creating a "horrible atmosphere" by saying any war would be fought on the Korean Peninsula.
"That is why U.S. military warmongers are running amok, vociferating about introduction of strategic assets into the Korean peninsula and 'preemptive attack,'" the commentary said.
"It is a tragedy that the reckless and hysteric behaviors may reduce the U.S. mainland to ashes any moment," the commentary said.
By North Korean standards, the rhetoric was fairly ordinary but U.S. allies urged Trump to stop responding in kind.
Australia, New Zealand and Germany urged him to be more cautious in his choice of words. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin that Germany "will very intensively take part in the options for a resolution that are not military, but I consider a verbal escalation to be the wrong response."
"I don't see a military solution to this conflict. I see the need for enduring work at the UN Security Council," Merkel said, "as well as tight cooperation between the countries involved, especially the U.S. and China."
Trump later brushed off Merkel's remarks. "Maybe she's speaking for Germany, let her speak for Germany," he said. "She's a friend of mine, she's a very good person, a very good woman, she's a friend of (daughter) Ivanka. Perhaps she is referring to Germany. She's certainly not referring to the United States, that I can tell you."
Russia, which voted last week in favor of the U.N. resolution imposing tougher economic sanctions on North Korea, urged both sides to step back from the brink.
At a youth forum in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the risks of direct conflict "are very high, especially given this rhetoric -- direct threats of using force are being made."
Russia, he said, was "very worried" by "talk of the need to carry out a preemptive strike at North Korea" and "Pyongyang's talk of the need to strike at Guam island."
"We don't accept a nuclear-powered North Korea," Lavrov said, but he added that the United States should take the first step away from conflict.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.