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Amid rising international tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, President Trump said Thursday that his earlier promise of “fire and fury” against North Korea “maybe wasn't tough enough.”
“If North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love or we represent or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous,” Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf club where he is on a so-called working vacation. “They should be nervous. Things will happen to them like they never thought possible.”
The president pushed back on a question of whether the administration is sending the American public mixed messages about the situation with North Korea.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Wednesday echoed Trump's strong language, saying North Korea needs to “cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided a calmer message, saying that Americans should “sleep well at night” and “have no concerns” over the threat of attacks from North Korea.
Sebastian Gorka, one of Trump's top national security advisers, said earlier this week that Tillerson isn't in charge of defense strategy, and the idea that he “is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical.”
A spokesperson for the State Department, Heather Nauert, on Thursday pushed back on Gorka's comments saying that Tillerson should be paid attention.
“I think that everyone has clearly heard what Tillerson's forceful comments have been and continue to be on the issue of DPRK and on other countries as well,” Nauert said in a press briefing Thursday. “He's a cabinet secretary. He's the fourth in line to the presidency. He carries a big stick.”
Despite this confusion, Trump said “there are no mixed messages” coming from the administration.
“It’s about time someone stood up for the people of our country,” he said, adding that his statements were backed up 100% by the military.
Trump said that China can do a lot more to help with North Korea, loosely implying that he would ease up on trade actions if China helped the US.
“We lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China,” Trump said. “They know how I feel. It's not going to continue like that. But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade.”
He went on to criticize former president Bill Clinton for being “weak and ineffective” with North Korea, and former president Barack Obama for not wanting “to talk about it.”
“North Korea better get their act together,” Trump said. “They are going to be in trouble like a few nations have been in trouble in this world.”
Earlier on Thursday Senator Marco Rubio called people's criticism of Trump's fiery rhetoric “ridiculous.”
“They act as if North Korea would act different if he used nicer words,” Rubio tweeted.