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[SEOUL] A South Korean presidential adviser criticised Donald Trump's escalating North Korea threats, exposing a potential rift with a key ally in the firing line if war breaks out.
Moon Chung-In, a special adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-In, told ABC News that Mr Trump's vow to unleash "fire and fury" if the isolated nation continued its provocations was "very worrisome".
That comment from Mr Trump came less than 24 hours after a telephone conversation in which Moon Jae-In urged him to tone things down, Moon Chung-In said.
"This is very unusual. We do not expect that the president of the United States would make that kind of statement," Moon Chung-In said, according to ABC News.
"It is very worrisome for the president of the United States to fill (fuel) the crisis."
The comments represent the most pointed criticism from a US ally in Asia since Mr Trump launched his new push to pressure Kim Jong Un and his benefactors in Beijing. They underscore Mr Trump's risk of sowing division with nations that depend on the US for protection against North Korea and would be vital to the success of a military campaign.
Since taking office, Moon Jae-In's administration has sought to open a dialogue with North Korea, even while strengthening its defenses in response to Mr Kim's recent tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The criticism from a presidential adviser comes as the US's top general, Joseph Dunford, prepares to meet with Moon Jae-In in Seoul on a previously scheduled visit. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff will also meet with senior military officials.
The US has almost 30,000 military personnel stationed in South Korea and has assured the country's security since the Korean War ended without a peace treaty almost six decades ago.
Mr Dunford will next head to China, Yonhap News Agency reported, citing an unidentified military official. In a weekend call with Mr Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for all sides to maintain restraint and avoid inflammatory comments.
Moon Chung-In, South Korea's ambassador-at-large for international security, criticized the Trump administration for what he said was a lack of clarity over North Korea.
"It is a chicken game, but I think what is needed right now is mutual restraint," Moon Chung-In told ABC News.
The adviser visited the US in June and attended leaders summits in North Korea in 2000 and 2007. An honorary professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, Moon Chung-In has previously backed concessions to Pyongyang such as scaling back US-South Korean military exercises if North Korea suspends nuclear and missile activities, according to local media.
South Korea's presidential office said his remark on military drills didn't represent an official government position, and officials said they also warned the professor that such comments are not conducive to good relations with the US, Yonhap reported in June.
Analysts have warned of the potential for further escalation in the coming days as both North and South Korea on Tuesday celebrate the anniversary of the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.
Meanwhile, South Korea is planning to participate in massive joint military exercises with the US starting August 21.
Mr Trump said last week that Mr Kim had gotten away with provocations for too long and suggested that he was ready to hit the reclusive regime with US military might. He capped a week of escalating rhetoric with another warning Friday, that if Mr Kim made any "overt threat" or strike at a US territory or ally that "he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast".
While the Australian and Japan governments have backed Mr Trump's hard line against North Korea, the comments have raised concerns that the US might be willing to accept collateral damage among its Asian allies to protect the American homeland.
Mr Dunford said last month that it was "unimaginable" to allow North Korea to develop the capability to strike a US city with a nuclear weapon. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, told NBC News that Mr Trump told him that "if thousands die, they're going to die over there".