WASHINGTON -- The escalating exchange of nuclear threats between North Korea and the United States has pushed us closer to the brink of war.
Recent classified reports by U.S. intelligence, based on spy satellite surveillance, now reveal that the Communist nation has successfully developed a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can be fitted atop of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching our country.
North Korea, punished by a severe new round of U.S.-led economic sanctions approved this week by the U.N. Security Council, described the action as an attempt to bring down its country.
It was especially angered by the ban on exports that provide up to a third of North Korea's yearly $3 billion in earnings.
Such sanctions, its government said, were an attempt "to strangle a nation," warning the U.S. that "physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilization of all its national strength."
President Trump, on a 17-day working vacation at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, shot back a fiery reply Tuesday, warning North Korea that it would face a devastating response if it continued to threaten the U.S.
"They will be met with fire and fury and, frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before," he said.
Before this exchange took place, Trump's secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, attempted to defuse the deepening conflict by sending a remarkable peace offering to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel," he said last week.
"We are trying to convey to the North Koreans: We are not your enemy, we are not your threat," he added.
Tillerson's calm-the-waters statement was widely credited for clearing the way for both China and Russia to embrace the sanctions, though it had no effect on Kim.
But maybe Tillerson's remarks were really aimed at an end-run around Trump in a vain attempt to send a more diplomatic message to the North Korean leader.
The Reuters news agency's lead story Wednesday on Trump's blistering warning to Kim suggested that was the case: "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played down President Trump's incendiary warning to North Korea Wednesday, saying he was just trying to send a strong message in language its leader would understand," the news service said.
While Trump was telling Kim that if he wanted a fight, the U.S. was ready to give him one, Tillerson was singing a different tune.
Speaking to reporters shortly before landing in Guam, the U.S. Pacific island territory Pyongyang is threatening to strike, Tillerson said he did not believe "there was an imminent threat from North Korea," Reuters reported.
"I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days," he said.
But in case anyone assumed he was leaving the Trump reservation on foreign policy, Tillerson maintained that "what the president was just reaffirming is that the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack, and our allies, and we will do so."
"So ... what the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn't seem to understand diplomatic language," he said.
Soon after Tillerson's remarks, Trump reinforced his warning to Pyongyang in a Twitter post with another not-so-veiled warning that touted a new and much improved U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.
"My first order as president was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before," he claimed.
In another statement, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also sent a blunt message to North Korea Wednesday, urging its government to stop any action that would "lead to the end of its regime."
The "regime's actions will continue to be overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates," he said.
Meantime, it is interesting that throughout this war of words with North Korea, there has been no mention of our anti-ballistic missile arsenal that can destroy any incoming ICBMs before they can strike their target.
Kim Jong Un better think long and hard about that before he makes another boastful claim about his military superiority.