Trump warns U.S. 'locked and loaded' as North Korea readies missiles

South Korean President Moon Jae-in

USA bombers have flown over the Korean Peninsula several times to show American strength after Pyongyang's missile tests.

President Donald Trump on Friday again delivered a bold warning to North Korea, tweeting that the US military is "locked and loaded" if the isolated rogue nation acts "unwisely", escalating an exchange of threats between the nuclear-armed nations. The plan would be sent to leader Kim Jong Un for approval just before or as the U.S.

"All of this could lead to further militarization of South Korea", said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

Previously, Seoul and Washington have described the "Ulchi-Freedom Guardian" drills as a deterrence against an aggressive North.

"So unless those North Korean missiles were to fall short, the Patriots shouldn't have a function to serve in this particular case", he said.

Tensions grew after North Korea made major advances in its nuclear programme by testing two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month.

That means locals living on the small island, a United States territory, will have even less time to react as news of a launch by Kim Jong-un filters through.

The exercises were scheduled well before tensions began to rise over Trump's increasingly fiery rhetoric and North Korea's announcement of the missile plan, which if carried out would be its most provocative launch yet.

'Now is time to start reviewing nuclear armament, ' the Korea Herald said in an editorial Friday.

North Korea wants an end to annual military drills between the United States and South Korea that it condemns as invasion rehearsals, and the removal of tens of thousands of USA troops stationed in the South.

American officials, however, do not have high confidence that the military could find and destroy North Korea's entire arsenal of long-range missiles and nuclear warheads.

"Now is the right time to actively look at bringing back tactical nuclear weapons", Chung Woo-taik, floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, told Reuters. Later, Defense Secretary James Mattis warned North Korea in a statement it would lose any conflict it initiates. "But, I believe in the USA that they will take care of us, and between my belief and my trust in our United States president I don't worry". "In order to transform the present crisis into an opportunity and open the door for dialogue, we humbly ask you to immediately dispatch a special envoy to North Korea", the letter concluded.

Earlier in the week, Mr Trump said North Korea would face "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if Pyongyang continues to provoke, then boasted on Twitter that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is "far stronger and more powerful than ever before".

Chinese government-backed scholars said Beijing is deeply concerned about the latest statements from Trump and North Korea.

'A catastrophe is looming, ' the South's top-selling Chosun daily said in an editorial this week.

HARTZ: Well, and on the North Korean side, there are differences of specificity. The U.S. recaptured the territory three years later.

He added, "Now is the time to rally behind our commander-in-chief...in order to protect our nation and the proud citizens of our country living in the USA territories".

"Putting these things all together and making them work is extremely challenging, and they haven't yet demonstrated a capability to produce a reliable re-entry vehicle, which is what houses the actual nuclear device", he said.

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