US nuclear button ‘much bigger’ than North Korea’s: Trump

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, has been on collision course with US President Donald Trump regarding Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. (Reuters)
Updated 03 January 2018
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US nuclear button ‘much bigger’ than North Korea’s: Trump

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump boasted Tuesday that he has a bigger and more powerful “nuclear button” than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The president’s Tuesday evening tweet came in response to Kim’s New Year’s address, in which he repeated fiery nuclear threats against the United States. He said he has a “nuclear button” on his office desk and warned that “the whole territory of the US is within the range of our nuclear strike.”
Trump mocked that assertion, writing, “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!“
Earlier Tuesday, Trump sounded open to the possibility of an inter-Korean dialogue after made a rare overture toward South Korea in a New Year’s address. But Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations insisted talks would not be meaningful unless the North was getting rid of its nuclear weapons.
In a morning tweet, Trump said the US-led campaign of sanctions and other pressure were beginning to have a “big impact” on North Korea. He referred to the recent, dramatic escape of at least two North Korean soldiers across the heavily militarized border into South Korea. He also alluded to Kim’s comments Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by South Korea next month.
“Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not — we will see!” Trump said, using his derisive moniker for the young North Korean leader.
In response to Kim’s overture, South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks on Jan. 9 at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties.
North Korea did not immediately react to the South’s proposal. If there are talks, they would be the first formal dialogue between the Koreas since December 2015. Relations have plunged as the North has accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile development that now poses a direct threat to America, South Korea’s crucial ally.
The US administration, however, voiced suspicions that Kim was seeking to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington. Pyongyang could view a closer relationship with Seoul has a way for reducing its growing international isolation and relief from sanctions that are starting to bite the North’s meager economy.
“We won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters at the United Nations. “We consider this to be a very reckless regime. We don’t think we need a Band-Aid, and we don’t think we need to smile and take a picture.”
While Trump ratcheted up the tension Tuesday night, he doesn’t actually have a physical nuclear button.
The process for launching a nuclear strike is secret and complex, and involves the use of a nuclear “football,” which is carried by a rotating group of military officers everywhere the president goes and is equipped with communication tools and a book with prepared war plans.
If the president were to order a strike, he would identify himself to military officials at the Pentagon with codes unique to him. Those codes are recorded on a card known as the “biscuit” that is carried by the president at all times. He would then transmit the launch order to the Pentagon and Strategic Command.
North Korea has been punished with unprecedented sanctions at the UN over its weapons programs, and Haley warned Tuesday of more measures if the North conducts another missile test.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert did not express opposition Tuesday to South Korea holding talks with North Korea, but voiced deep skepticism about Kim’s intentions, saying he may be “trying to drive a wedge of some sort” between the US and its ally, which hosts 28,000 American forces.
South Korea’s liberal President Moon Jae-in has supported Trump’s pressure campaign against North Korea, but he’s less confrontational than the US president and favors dialogue to ease the North’s nuclear threats. Moon has long said he sees the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to improve inter-Korean ties.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the US would continue to put “maximum pressure” on North Korea to give up its nukes. She added that South Korea shares that goal.

 


California wildfire moves toward Yosemite, small mountain towns

Updated 49 min 35 sec ago
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California wildfire moves toward Yosemite, small mountain towns

  • The so-called Ferguson Fire had charred nearly 19 square miles by Tuesday afternoon
  • A mandatory evacuation was ordered over the weekend for more than 100 homes deemed most threatened in Jerseydale
LOS ANGELES: A fierce California wildfire crept toward the boundary of Yosemite National Park on Tuesday as crews fought through steep, often inaccessible terrain and thick smoke to protect a string of small mountain communities in the path of the flames.
The so-called Ferguson Fire, which started on Friday night and killed a firefighter the following day, had charred nearly 19 square miles (49 square kilometers) by Tuesday afternoon and was burning just a few miles (km) outside the park.
“The fire continues to grow,” fire spokeswoman Adrienne Freeman said. “There’s a lot of vegetation and it’s very, very dry, there’s a significant amount of beetle kill (in the trees).”
“The story is, this is steep terrain,” Freeman said. “You would have a difficult time walking on some of these slopes or getting people into these canyons. There are a lot of places where we simply cannot put people because it’s not safe.”
Making the job more difficult was an inversion layer of thick black smoke pouring off the flames and visible for miles (km) that prevented water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft from flying low into narrow canyons, she said.
State Route 140, a western entry point into Yosemite, remained closed by the flames. Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the conflagration.
As the blaze marched slowly east and south from its starting point at Savage Trading Post, 20 miles (32 km) southwest of the park’s boundary in the Sierra Nevada mountains, fire managers warned that the communities of Jerseydale, Mariposa Pines, Clearing House and Incline could be in danger.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered over the weekend for more than 100 homes deemed most threatened in Jerseydale, Freeman said.
Firefighter Braden Varney was killed on Saturday when a bulldozer he was using to cut a fire break overturned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Varney is the 10th US wildland firefighter to die in the line of duty this year, according to National Interagency Fire Center data.
California has had its worst start to the fire season in a decade, with more than 220,421 acres (89,201 hectares) blackened and six major wildfires burning statewide as of Tuesday, according to the agency.
Wildfires have already burned more than 3.3 million acres (1.3 million hectares) across the United States this year, more than the year-to-date average of about 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) over the past 10 years.
The risk of large wildfires is set to ease in much of the Southwest and Rocky Mountains due to expected summer rains, but risk levels will remain high in California through at least October, according to the agency.