When North Korea on Wednesday repeated its intention to plan a missile strike directed at Guam, its wording was filled with conditions and chances for the country to backpedal.
"Make sure you understand that this is not the final decision," Robert Carlin, the former chief of the Northeast Asia Division at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, told reporters on a call organized by 38 North, a website that brings together experts on North Korea.
"This is a statement about a plan supposedly in process. There are firebreaks built into it. The plan is under consideration, then it's supposed to be handed to Kim Jong Un, then he'll make a decision," Carlin said.
North Korea's bold threat includes "several places they can stop or give up," Carlin said.
But when US President Donald Trump said the US would respond to the next North Korean threat with "fire and fury unlike the world has ever seen," he did not demonstrate similar forethought.
Instead he promised to respond to the next provocation from North Korea with what many assumed to mean nuclear force. Just a few hours later, Pyongyang obliged him, and it issued a specific and disquieting threat.
Carlin, as well as other North Korea experts on the call, agreed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would most likely decide against firing the missiles, as they're unreliable and present a large risk should they fail.
But now Kim has publicly crossed Trump.
Whether or not North Korea follows through with its threat, which is really just an announcement of the intention to create a plan to present to Kim, it has already dealt a severe blow to the US's credibility.
- North Korea is playing hardball, but it's actually willing to talk — and possibly make peace with Trump
- Trump promises an 'event the likes of which nobody's ever seen' if North Korea attacks Guam
- Trump's 'fire and fury' rhetoric drags the US to North Korea's level — but he may have an ulterior motive