Despite the grave warning, Trump’s statement was notably measured in contrast to his response to previous tests of ballistic missile launches by North Korea. After a recent spate, he promised “fire and fury” if the isolated nation continued to provoke the United States.
Trump also said earlier this month that he would make Kim “truly regret” harming the United States or its allies.
As he walked from the White House to Marine One, en route to survey hurricane damage in Texas, Trump paused briefly to answer a reporter’s question about what he plans to do about North Korea.
“We’ll see, we’ll see,” he said.
Trump's statement came more than 12 hours after White House aides had signaled a statement by the president was in the works.
The Japanese prime minister’s office said Shinzo Abe and Trump talked by phone for 40 minutes after the launch, agreeing that they should increase pressure on North Korea.
The missile appears to have been a Hwasong-12, the intermediate-range ballistic missile technically capable of flying 3,000 miles that North Korea has been threatening to launch toward the U.S. territory of Guam.But North Korea launched Tuesday’s missile to the east, over Hokkaido and into the Pacific rather than on a southward path toward Guam, apparently to test its flight on a normal trajectory without crossing a “red line” of aiming at the United States.
Still, this launch, coming after North Korea last month launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles theoretically capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, underscore both Kim's defiance of the international community and his determination to press ahead with his missile program. Kim has now ordered the launch of 18 missiles this year alone, compared with the 16 missiles his father, Kim Jong Il, fired during 17 years in power.
The U.N. Security Council confirmed that it would hold an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the latest provocation. Missile launches and nuclear tests are banned by the U.N. Security Council, but North Korea has paid no attention to its resolutions.
Kim’s government had been threatening to fire a missile to land near Guam, which is home to two huge U.S. military bases, by the middle of this month. However, Kim later said that after reviewing the plans, he would “watch the Yankees a little longer” before making a decision about whether to launch.
After the Guam threat, Trump warned North Korea that “things will happen to them like they never thought possible” should the isolated country attack the United States or its allies.
With no missile launches during the first three weeks of August, the Trump administration had suggested that its tough talk was working. At a campaign-style rally in Phoenix last week, Trump alluded to his earlier rhetoric on North Korea, telling a boisterous crowd that Kim was “starting to respect” the United States.
“I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us,” Trump said at the rally. “I respect that fact very much. Respect that fact.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a similar argument at the time, saying that he was pleased “to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we've not seen in the past.”
Those comments came before North Korea's firing of three short-range missiles Friday.
Asked during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” if he still stood by his and Trump’s assessments, Tillerson said, “I don’t know that we’re wrong. I think it's going to take some time to tell."
Fifield reported from Tokyo.