Donald Trump has said military solutions over the North Korea crisis are "locked and loaded" the third time in a week he has issued a provocative warning against the isolated Asian nation over the nuclear threat they possess.
His tweet comes after several days of strident rhetoric from both sides, including a spontaneous statement by Mr Trump that Pyongyang faced "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if it continued to threaten the US.
Mr Trump said: "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!"
The tweet came shortly after the North Korean state news agency, KCNA, put out a statement blaming him for the boiling tensions.
“Trump is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war, making such outcries as 'the US will not rule out a war against the DPRK [North Korea],'” KCNA said. The North has also repeatedly said that regular military exercises between the US and South Korea are a provocation.
The President's talk of a military response stepped up after the the regime of Mr Kim threatened to fire missiles around the US territory of Guam. In his tweet, Mr Trump did not specify whether the solutions were preemptive or reactive, but on Thursday US Defence Secretary James Mattis said the military "was ready" to respond to any attack, but that the US preferred a diplomatic solution.
Mr Trump also retweeted a message from the US military command in the Pacific saying American B-1B Lancer bombers on Guam “stand ready” if called upon for use in the crisis.
Authorities on the US Pacific island, which has a population of more than 160,000 and hosts two key military bases housing roughly 6,000 military personnel, posted emergency guidelines on Friday to help residents prepare for any potential nuclear attack after a threat from North Korea to fire missiles in its vicinity.
“Do not look at the flash or fireball as It can blind you,” the guidelines stated. “Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.”
Mr Trump's tweet attracted immediate criticism from opponents. Ben Rhodes, a former foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, said: "This isn't a video game. Hundreds of thousands of lives at stake in war with NK. Was this statement signed off on by anyone?
"Was this statement coordinated with South Korea and Japan, our allies who are at enormous risk in conventional conflict with North Korea?"
A number of nations have called for calm, with officials from Russia and Germany speaking out on Friday.
Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2017
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a previously unveiled joint Russian-Chinese plan under which North Korea would freeze missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. Neither the United States nor North Korea has embraced the plan.
Mr Lavrov said the risks of a military conflict over North Korea's nuclear program are very high and Moscow is deeply worried by the threats from Washington and Pyongyang.
“Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is now starting to go over the top,” Lavrov said on live state television at a forum for Russian students. “We still hope and believe that common sense will prevail.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is no military solution to the dispute, adding that “an escalation of the rhetoric is the wrong answer.”
“I see the need for enduring work at the UN Security Council ... as well as tight cooperation between the countries involved, especially the US and China,” Ms Merkel said.
The members of the UN Security Council voted last week for new sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea's exports, with both China - Pyongyang's biggest trading partner - and Russia voting for the new measures. But Mr Trump has repeatedly called on China to pressure Mr Kim into halting his rapidly advancing nuclear programme.
Amid the heated words, South Koreans are buying more ready-to-eat meals that could be used in an emergency and the government is planning to expand nationwide civil defense drills planned for on 23 August. Hundreds of thousands of troops and huge arsenals are arrayed on both sides of the tense demilitarised zone between the two Koreas.
The damage inflicted on world stocks this week by the tensions topped $1 trillion on Friday, as investors again took cover in the yen, the Swiss franc, gold and government bonds.
The latest row over North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programmes was sparked by two tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in July.
The range of the missile in the second test showed that North Korea was now capable of striking the mainland US, the regime claimed.
Then a leaked intelligence report showed intelligence services in Washington believed the Kim regime possessed the ability to miniaturise a nuclear warhead for use on an ICBM, prompting Mr Trump's "fire and fury" statement to reporters at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort.
Mr Trump later said he thought his warning may not have been "tough enough".
He told reporters, before a security briefing with top advisers on Thursday: "We’re backed 100 per cent by our military, we’re backed by everybody and we’re backed by many other leaders.
"And I noticed that many senators and others came out today very much in favour of what I said. But if anything that statement may not be tough enough."
The President said the US has been negotiating with North Korea for 25 years and that his nation "would always consider negotiations". but blamed his predecessors for a lack of progress.
Bill Clinton, he said, was "weak and ineffective", while Mr Obama "didn’t even want to talk about it," he added.
It emerged on Friday that Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea policy, has engaged in back-channel diplomacy for several months with Pak Song Il, a senior diplomat at Pyongyang's UN mission, on the deteriorating relations and the issue of Americans imprisoned in North Korea, the Associated Press reported.
The US State Department previously said Mr Yun had met with Mr Pak in New York and travelled to Pyongyang in June to discuss the release of Otto Warmbier, the American student imprisoned in North Korea who died soon after his return to the United States.
The State Department have said that the Trump administration are speaking with "one voice" on the issue of North Korea, but Mr Trump's unfiltered tweets and statements have sometimes contradicted more moderate lines taken by senior members of his cabinet.
More than 60 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter to Mr Tillerson expressing their "profound concern" over the President's words.
They wrote: "These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda which has long sought to portray the United States as a threat to their people."
Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst, told the BBC's Today programme earlier this week that Mr Trump's rhetoric was not "helpful in trying to generate international support for the United States".
A military strike on North Korea would have "catastrophic consequences", he said, echoing the past analysis of Mr Mattis.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated this week he did not believe the US faced an imminent threat from North Korea.
However, as shown by the chart above, created for The Independent by statistics agency Statista, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the Kim Jong-un regime constitutes a "very serious" threat, with a further 23 per cent considering it "moderately serious".