25 March 2019
A North Korean navy truck carries a "Pukkuksong" submarine-launched ballistic missile during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father, Kim Il-sung, in Pyongyang on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
A North Korean navy truck carries a "Pukkuksong" submarine-launched ballistic missile during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father, Kim Il-sung, in Pyongyang on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

North Korea threatens pre-emptive nuclear strike

North Korea will launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike if it deems the United States is preparing to attack, a senior official told the BBC.

“If the US is planning a military attack against us, we will react with a nuclear pre-emptive strike by our own style and method,” Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol told the British broadcaster’s John Sudworth in an interview in Pyongyang.

He also said North Korea will continue to test missiles amid international condemnation and growing military tensions with the US.

“We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” Han was quoted as saying.

He said that an “all-out war” would result if the US took military action.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence warned Pyongyang that recent American military strikes in Syria and Afghanistan showed President Donald Trump’s resolve should not be questioned.

After a huge display of missiles in Pyongyang and a failed North Korean missile test during the weekend, US officials praised China for stepping up efforts to rein in North Korea, Beijing’s neighbor and ally, Reuters reported.

But Pence and South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, said they would proceed with the early deployment to South Korea of the US THAAD missile defense system, in spite of Chinese objections.

At a White House Easter celebration on Monday, Trump was asked if he had a message for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and replied: “Gotta behave.”

But senior North Korean officials remained defiant.

North Korea’s deputy representative to the United Nations, Kim In-ryong, accused Washington of creating “a situation where nuclear war could break out an any time” and said Pyongyang’s next nuclear test would take place “at a time and at a place where our headquarters deems necessary”.

Kim Song-gyong, director general of the European Department of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, told Reuters in Pyongyang that if Washington made “the slightest movement” to make a nuclear strike on North Korea, Pyongyang would strike first and “destroy the aggressors without any mercy”.

He went on to clarify that the approach of a US naval strike force led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to Korean waters would not be considered enough to constitute “the slightest movement”.

Korean tensions have escalated following repeated North Korean missile tests and concerns that Pyongyang may soon conduct a sixth nuclear bomb test in defiance of UN sanctions.

Washington is increasingly worried about North Korean efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile that could hit the US mainland.

Speaking alongside Hwang, Pence said the world had witnessed Trump’s resolve in the past two weeks, which saw a US missile attack on a Syrian airfield and the dropping of a powerful non-nuclear bomb on Islamic State in Afghanistan.

“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 said on what was his first stop of a four-nation Asia tour intended to show that Trump is not turning his back on the increasingly volatile part of the world.

Pence, whose father served in the 1950-53 Korean War, visited the North-South border on Monday and said Washington would stand by its “ironclad alliance” with South Korea.

“All options are on the table to achieve the objectives and ensure the stability of the people of this country,” he told reporters as tinny propaganda music floated across from the North Korean side of the so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ).

The Trump administration has said that military action remains an option for dealing with North Korea.

But mindful that this would likely trigger massive retaliation and casualties in South Korea and Japan and among US troops there, US officials say the Trump administration’s main focus is on tougher economic sanctions to try to get Pyongyang to abandon its weapons programs.

Trump himself, when asked on Monday if he was considering military action, told Fox News Channel he didn’t want to “telegraph” his plans like the previous administration.

“We’ll see what happens. I hope things work out well,” he said but added that the US had tried to engage the North Koreans in talks for a long time.

On Sunday, Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said that the US, its allies and China were working on a range of responses to North Korea’s latest missile test, citing what he called an international consensus to act.

He indicated Trump was not considering military action for now, despite the dispatch the carrier group.

US officials say tougher sanctions could include an oil embargo, a global ban on North Korea’s airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang. They say greater Chinese cooperation is vital.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said China had taken some “very helpful” steps, although it remained to be seen how effective these would be.

Asked if Trump had a “red line” on North Korea, Spicer said the president did not believe these worked.

China has appeared increasingly frustrated with Pyongyang, speaking out against its weapons tests and supporting UN sanctions, while repeatedly calling for talks.

China banned imports of North Korean coal, the country’s most important export, in February, and Chinese media have raised the possibility of restricting oil shipments to the North.

However, Beijing says the crisis is one between the US and North Korea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the situation was “highly sensitive, complicated and high risk” and all sides should “avoid taking provocative actions”.

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