North Korea appeared on Tuesday to pause its threat to launch ballistic missiles toward Guam, saying it would wait to assess “the foolish and stupid conduct” of the United States before carrying the launchings out.
The statement came as the United States and South Korea were preparing to conduct joint military exercises on the Korean Peninsula and surrounding waters starting on Monday, despite North Korea’s vehement opposition to such drills.
In response to threats from President Trump, North Korea’s military announced last week that by mid-August, it would submit a plan to Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, for launching four ballistic missiles into waters around Guam, the United States territory that is home to American military bases.
On Monday, Kim Jong Un reviewed the plan while visiting the command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army but said he would wait a bit before telling the military to proceed with the missile launchings, the state news media reported on Tuesday.
“He said that the U.S. imperialists caught the noose around their necks due to their reckless military confrontation racket, adding that they would watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees,” said the report from the Korean Central News Agency.
Mr. Kim’s decision to wait “a little more” before ordering the launchings represented a slight ratcheting down of tensions and came after some of Mr. Trump’s top aides on Monday tried to tamp down fears of a clash after his threat to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea.
South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, on Tuesday offered an unusually blunt rebuke to the Trump administration’s discussions of possible military responses to the North, saying no country should take military action on the Korean Peninsula without his government’s approval.
“It’s only South Korea that can decide on a military action on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Moon said during a nationally televised speech marking National Liberation Day, which celebrates the end of Japanese colonial rule of Korea at the end of World War II. “No one should be allowed to decide on a military action on the Korean Peninsula without South Korean agreement.”
South Koreans have grown increasingly concerned in recent days about a possible military conflict following Mr. Trump’s threats against the North.
As the exchange of combative rhetoric intensified between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, Mr. Moon and his office have issued a steady stream of statements opposing any armed conflict on the peninsula.
Although Mr. Moon’s latest statement did not mention Mr. Trump by name, it marked his strongest expression of disapproval of military options being considered by Washington.
In a meeting with Mr. Moon on Monday, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with the South Korean leader that the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats should be resolved through diplomacy and sanctions. But the top American general added that the United States was preparing military options in case those efforts failed.
“The United States military’s priority is to support our government’s efforts to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through diplomatic and economic pressure,” General Dunford was quoted as saying in a Korean-language statement released by Mr. Moon’s office after the meeting on Monday. “We are preparing a military option in case such efforts fail.”