THE rising tension over President Donald Trump’s determination to force North Korea to end its production of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles took a dramatic twist yesterday when a senior official in Pyongyang said his country could soon start weekly missile tests.
The statement by deputy foreign minister Han Song-Ryo would not have been made without the direct approval of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
He said: “We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. If the US is reckless enough to use military means it would mean from that very day, an all-out war.”
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At the same time, Trump broke away from the traditional Easter egg-rolling on the White House lawn to tell CNN news that North Korea “gotta behave.”
CNN reporter Jim Acosta later tweeted that he had asked Trump if North Korea “can be resolved peacefully”, to which the President replied “hopefully it can.”
It was a day of ramping up the rhetoric by both sides in this increasingly fraught confrontation, with North Korea not backing down in the slightest.
A less than diplomatic offensive was launched by North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Kim In-ryong, who said at a press conference in New York that the US was to blame for the push towards military confrontation and “thermo-nuclear war.”
Condemning the US’s cruise missile attack on a Syrian Government airbase, Kim In-ryong said America was “disturbing global peace and stability and insisting on the gangster-like logic that its invasion of a sovereign state is decisive and just and proportionate and contributes to defending the international order.”
His most outspoken comments were reserved for events in Korea, however. “The US introduced in South Korea, the Korean peninsula, the world’s biggest hotspot, a huge nuclear strategic asset, seriously threatening the peace and security of the peninsula and pushing it to the brink of war.
“It has created a dangerous situation in which a thermo-nuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula and poses a serious threat to the world peace and security to say nothing of those in Northeast Asia.”
The remarks came after Vice President Mike Pence visited the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, where he said the “era of strategic patience is over” and added that China could use its “extraordinary levers” to make Kim Jong-un abandon his nuclear weapons programme.
Pence said: “President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change.
“We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”
Pence said “all options were on the table” to deal with the threat posed by Pyongyang. He said any use of nuclear weapons would be met with “an overwhelming and effective response.”
He added that Kim Jong-un should note the attacks President Trump ordered recently in Syria and Afghanistan, saying: “North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.”
Pence added that the American commitment to South Korea was “iron-clad and immutable.”
The world’s other great powers have insisted on having their say on the developing situation, with China repeating its call for North Korea to stop all tests, and also calling for a peaceful solution.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the Korean peninsula was “highly sensitive, complicated and high risk” and that all sides should “avoid taking provocative actions that pour oil on the fire”.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would not tolerate “missile adventures by Pyongyang” but that a unilateral use of power by the US would be “a very risky course”.
Japan, the nearest military power to North Korea after South Korea, China and Russia, has already started planning for refugees from the Korean peninsula. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Japanese Parliament that his government approved of the US’s stance and added: “We are consistently thinking and preparing for situations where Japanese residents in the Korean peninsula will need to be protected or evacuated.”