Trump boasts of 'nuclear button' but doesn't really have one

In this image made from video released by KRT on Jan. 1, 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks in his annual address in undisclosed location, North Korea. North Korean leader Kim said Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (KRT via AP Video)

The Associated Press

President Donald Trump boasted that he has a bigger and more powerful "nuclear button" than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un does — but the president doesn't actually have a physical button.

The president's Tuesday evening tweet came in response to Kim's New Year's address, in which he repeated fiery nuclear threats against the United States. Kim said he has a "nuclear button" on his office desk and warned that "the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike."

Trump mocked that assertion, writing, "Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

But despite ratcheting up the tension, Trump doesn't really have a nuclear button.

The process for launching a nuclear strike is secret and complex and involves the use of a nuclear "football," which is carried by a rotating group of military officers everywhere the president goes and is equipped with communication tools and a book with prepared war plans.

If the president were to order a strike, he would identify himself to military officials at the Pentagon with codes unique to him. Those codes are recorded on a card known as the "biscuit" that is carried by the president at all times. He would then transmit the launch order to the Pentagon and Strategic Command.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump sounded open to the possibility of an inter-Korean dialogue after Kim made a rare overture toward South Korea in a New Year's address. But Trump's ambassador to the United Nations insisted talks would not be meaningful unless the North was getting rid of its nuclear weapons.

In a morning tweet, Trump said the U.S.-led campaign of sanctions and other pressure were beginning to have a "big impact" on North Korea. He referred to the recent, dramatic escape of at least two North Korean soldiers across the heavily militarized border into South Korea. He also alluded to Kim's comments Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by South Korea next month.

"Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not - we will see!" Trump said, using his derisive nickname for the North Korean leader.

In response to Kim's overture, South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks on Jan. 9 at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties. The South said Wednesday that North Korea's state-run radio station announced the North would reopen a cross-border communication channel.

If there are talks, they would be the first formal dialogue between the Koreas since December 2015. Relations have plunged as the North has accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile development that now poses a direct threat to America, South Korea's crucial ally.

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