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Donald Trump on Wednesday warned North Korea not to “underestimate” America, as he stressed that the US had deployed three aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula.
Speaking to the South Korean parliament, the US president told North Korea not to interpret American restraint as weakness, saying it would be a “fatal miscalculation” because his administration was very different from its predecessors.
“I hope I speak not only for our countries but for all civilised nations when I say to the North: Do not underestimate us. And do not try us,” Mr Trump said. “We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. We will not be intimidated.”
While the US president did not employ the fiery rhetoric he has previously used about North Korea, he reminded Pyongyang that the US had positioned serious military assets in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula.
“Currently stationed in the vicinity of this peninsula are three of the largest aircraft carriers in the world, loaded to the maximum with magnificent F-35 and F-18 fighter jets. In addition, we have nuclear submarines appropriately positioned,” Mr Trump said.
He added that “all responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea — to deny it any form of support, supply, or acceptance”, and warned that the longer time passed, “the fewer the options become”.
Mr Trump said he had come to the Korean peninsula to deliver a direct message to Kim Jong Un and his North Korean dictatorship.
“The weapons you are acquiring are not making your safer. They are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face. North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned, it is a hell that no person deserves,” the US president said.
“Yet despite every crime you have committed against god and man . . . we will offer a path to a much better future,” he continued. “It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to your development of ballistic missiles and complete, verifiable and total de-nuclearisation.”
His speech, made on the second leg of his five-nation tour of Asia, followed a press conference on Tuesday where Mr Trump urged North Korea to “come to the table and . . . make a deal”.
While he refused to discuss the possibility of direct talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, those comments marked a shift from previous remarks that talks with Pyongyang were a “waste of time”.
Mr Trump said on Tuesday that his administration had made progress with its pressure campaign on North Korea, without providing details. Speaking alongside South Korean president Moon Jae-in, Mr Trump said Pyongyang understood the might of the US military.
“They understand we have unparalleled strength,” Mr Trump said. “We have many things happening that . . . we hope to God we never have to use.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Trump tried to visit the demilitarised zone that separates South and North Korea, following in the footsteps of most US leaders since Jimmy Carter. But his helicopter was unable to land due to fog, preventing him from making a joint visit with Mr Moon.
Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, said it would have been a “historic moment” because a US and South Korean president have never visited the DMZ together. The White House last week said Mr Trump would not visit the DMZ — describing such visits as a cliché — because his schedule in South Korea was too tight.
Mr Trump is spending 11 days in Asia on his first trip to the region as president. North Korea was a major focus of his stops in Tokyo and Seoul and will top the agenda when he heads to China later on Wednesday for talks with President Xi Jinping. After Beijing, Mr Trump will travel to Vietnam and the Philippines.
The US president will tour the Forbidden City in Beijing before meeting Mr Xi and his wife for dinner. He will hold formal meetings with the Chinese leader on Thursday, before flying to Vietnam for the Apec summit on Friday.