Trump steps up war of words against North Korea, while his Defense secretary stresses diplomacy

President Trump reinforced his threat to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea despite widespread criticism of his bellicosity, saying Thursday that his initial statement maybe “wasn’t tough enough.”

The strong language — Trump used versions of the word “tough” four times during one seven-minute exchange with reporters, while downplaying the potential for negotiations and sanctions — came only hours after Secretary of Defense James. N. Mattis stressed the importance of diplomacy in the increasingly tense standoff with the nuclear-armed state.

“Of course there’s a military solution,” Mattis told reporters en route to a visit to a nuclear submarine base in Seattle, which he said was long-planned. “But what we’re trying to do here is leave it loud and clear … in the diplomatic arena: It is North Korea’s choice. Do you want a much better future — the entire world community is saying one thing — or do you want a much worse future?”

Trump, however, expressed little hope that negotiations could defuse tensions or put an end to North Korea’s program to develop nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States or its allies.

Kim Jong Un would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” prompted Kim to threaten a missile attack on Guam, the island territory of the United States in the Pacific that is home to a huge American military base.

nuclear program, a promise he made on the campaign trail that has unsettled allies, including Europeans, China and Russia, that helped negotiate it.

“It’s a horrible agreement,” Trump said. But the Iranians “are not in compliance with the agreement and they are certainly not in the spirit of the agreement in compliance, and I think you’ll see some very strong things taking place if they don’t get themselves in compliance.”

Mattis’ remarks on North Korea were nearly the opposite of Trump’s. Although he did not take threats of force off the table, he made it clear that diplomacy was the first option.

“You can see the American effort is diplomatically led, it has diplomatic traction, it is gaining diplomatic results, and I want to stay right there right now,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him in Silicon Valley. “The tragedy of war is well enough known, it doesn’t need another characterization beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic.”