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Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono Responds To Trump's Rhetoric On North Korea


Threats between the U.S. and North Korea have gotten as intense as they've ever been. President Trump says the U.S. is prepared to respond to North Korean threats with fire and fury. Kim Jong Un is threatening an attack on the U.S. territory of Guam. The back-and-forth happened after reports yesterday that North Korea is making nuclear warheads that are small enough to sit on top of its missiles.


We're going to talk now with a Senator from Hawaii. People there are already finalizing plans for the possibility of a nuclear strike by North Korea. Senator Mazie Hirono is a Democrat and joins us on the line from Honolulu. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: I'd like to start with some tape from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. His plane stopped in Guam earlier today during a scheduled refueling stop on the way back from Manila. And on the plane, he told reporters that he had no concerns about the president's fire and fury comments.


REX TILLERSON: I think the President - again, as commander in chief, I think he felt it necessary to issue a very strong statement directly to North Korea. But I think what the president was just reaffirming is the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack and defend our allies. And we will do so. So the American people should sleep well at night.

SHAPIRO: Senator Hirono, you're in Honolulu. Are people there sleeping well at night?

HIRONO: I think so. I mean - but the people here are basically remaining calm of course and concerned but calm. And we have a saying here in Hawaii. We say cool head main thing. So when there's chaos all around, it's important to maintain a cool head.

SHAPIRO: North Korea has threatened to attack Guam, which is about 4,000 miles west of Hawaii. How much does that threat reverberate where you are?

HIRONO: We have a lot of connections with Guam. There are a lot of people here from Guam. So of course we are concerned for them. But as Secretary Tillerson said in his remarks as he was refueling in Guam that we're - you know, the Korean - North Korea can strike anywhere. So I think it was important for him to reinforce the fact that not just the U.S. military power but that of our allies and other countries would overwhelm anything that North Korea could come up with. But it just goes to point out how important strengthening our diplomatic resolution of this situation is.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like you are supportive of Secretary Tillerson's remarks. What do you think about President Trump's remarks yesterday?

HIRONO: I think as usual, the president shot from the hip. And after the fact, people around him such as Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis issued statements that put more of - I would say more of a context to what he's saying without all of the fiery rhetoric. I don't think it was helpful for the president to engage in that kind of rhetoric because notice that what it resulted in was Kim Jong Un saying that he's going to target Guam. So that's not what we need. We need to ratchet down the rhetoric and the situation. And of course China, with whom we are in conversations with, has said, let's just tone down the rhetoric with regard to North Korea.

SHAPIRO: This has been a relatively steady march by North Korea towards greater nuclear capabilities over the last decade. Do you see an exit ramp?

HIRONO: I think it's a diplomatic route. And we need to engage in direct talks with North Korea. And for - somehow they have to understand - Kim Jong Un has to understand that our country has no desire to attack North Korea. But that seems to be the reason or rationale that Kim Jong Un is putting out there as to justify his nuclear ambitions - that the most powerful country in the world is preparing to attack North Korea.

SHAPIRO: You say diplomacy is the answer, but there is no sign that North Korea is willing to sit down with the U.S., and the U.S. doesn't seem ready to sit down with North Korea either.

HIRONO: Well, I think the U.S. is wanting to sit down with North Korea. It is taking whatever steps that it needs to, including the help from Russia and China because they appear to have a pretty good communication lines with North Korea. So it's going to take a concerted effort - diplomatic effort not just by the U.S. but by our allies and other people, like other countries such as China and Russia, to move things along on a diplomatic front. And none of these countries wants North Korea to implode. And...

SHAPIRO: Finally...

HIRONO: Nobody wants an all-out war with North Korea because that's going to result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

SHAPIRO: Finally, tell me about the preparations that Hawaii is making for the worst-case scenario.

HIRONO: Well, I know that our director of the Emergency Management Agency was on CNN just recently. And he's putting together a new - kind of a warning siren sound system and letting people know that when they hear that sound, which they're still perfecting, that we should shelter in place. And I'm sure that he will explain what that means.

SHAPIRO: All right, well, Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, we appreciate your joining us from Honolulu. Thanks very much.

HIRONO: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 9, 2017 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous audio version of this story stated that Hawaii was the closest U.S. state to North Korea. The closest state is in fact Alaska.