(CNN) – North Korea is warning any U.S. provocation would lead to a “merciless” retaliation.
The threat comes amid sharp words from President Donald Trump, and growing fears that Kim Jong Un could mark an important holiday with yet another nuclear test.
President Trump is spending Easter weekend with his family in Florida, where he was spotted Friday on the links at one of his golf clubs.
Following the president to his Mar-A-Lago resort – rising tensions with North Korea.
Asked if Thursday’s bombing of ISIS targets in Afghanistan — the second significant show of force by the U.S. in a week — was meant to send a message to the rogue regime, the president would only say: “I don’t know if this sends a message. It doesn’t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.”
It’s a thorny foreign policy challenge then-candidate Trump foreshadowed last year. He said, “If you look at North Korea, this guy, this – I mean, he’s like a maniac, ok? And you got to give him credit…this guy doesn’t play games and we can’t play games with him, because he really does have missiles and he really does have nukes.”
The president has been pushing China – North Korea’s biggest trading partner – to help curb the nation’s nuclear ambitions, and is trying to use a promised trade deal with the world’s second-largest economy as an inducement.
Trump said, “President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea…. I said, the way you’re going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea; otherwise we’re just going to go it alone.”
Secretary of state Rex Tillerson looked to put Pyongyang on notice during a trip to Asia last month, saying, “The policy of strategic patience has ended.”
But there are no easy solutions to the issue.
Negotiations with North Korea in recent years broke down – in part because Kim Jong Un sees his country’s nuclear program as necessary for the security of his regime. This weekend, the North is expected to celebrate the birthday of the country’s founder with a military parade, and it could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test, experts say.
The president takes to Twitter to blast the regime and prod China, tweeting Thursday: “I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A.”
North Korea is responding – the country’s vice foreign minister telling the Associated Press that “Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words…”
The back-and-forth comes as vice president Pence will soon embark on an eleven-day trip to the Asia-Pacific region. His first stop: South Korea. A senior administration official saying Thursday that military options with regard to North Korea would likely come up during pence’s visit. Pence is due to arrive in Seoul on Sunday.
China, meanwhile, has consistently pushed for a peaceful solution to the issue.
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