Speaking on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly last month, North Korean FM Ri Yong-ho said that if backed into a corner, Pyongyang could conduct “the most powerful detonation” of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean. On Wednesday, Ri Yong Pil, a senior diplomat in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, told CNN that the minister’s warning should be taken “literally” as tensions with Washington continue to rise.
“The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally,” Ri told the US news outlet, warning that Pyongyang “has always brought its words into action.”
“The US is talking about a military option and even practicing military moves. They’re pressuring us on all fronts with sanctions. If you think this will lead to diplomacy, you’re deeply mistaken,” Ri said.
The warning from the North Korean Foreign Ministry official, who is also the vice president of the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies, comes amid increasingly belligerent rhetoric from the White House.
In a recent interview with Fox News last Sunday, Trump once again reminded Pyongyang that the US is “totally prepared” to use military options against North Korea.
“You would be shocked to see how totally prepared we are if we need to be,” Trump said. “Would it be nice not to do that? The answer is yes.”
Trump is set to arrive in the region for his scheduled East Asia trip next week, where he plans to discuss the ongoing Korean tensions with Seoul and Tokyo.
Ahead of the visit, the US Navy has bolstered its presence off the Korean peninsula in a move which forced Pyongyang to call on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to urgently discuss the recent US naval drills near the Korean peninsula and continued military presence near the Korean border.
“The joint military exercises conducted by the US one after another all the year round on the Korean peninsula are clearly aggressive war exercises in their nature and scale,” North Korea’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ja Song-nam, said in Pyongyang’s most recent letter addressed to France’s UN Ambassador Francois Delattre, the current President of the UNSC.
North Korea maintains that the US and their regional allies are preparing for a pre-emptive strike which could escalate into a possible nuclear war.
Addressing the UNSC after the conclusion of the Maritime Counter Special Operations exercise (MCSOFEX), which involved the participation of vessels from the US Navy and the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy between October 17-20, the diplomat said the “naval rehearsal has further strained the tension on the Korean peninsula.”
“No other country in the world than the DPRK has ever been subjected to such an extreme and direct nuclear threat from the US for such a long time and witnessed on its door such nuclear war exercises which are the most vicious and ferocious in their scale, style, aim and essence,” the letter to the UNSC read.
The large-scale US-led joint military exercises are staged several times every year “with a mobilization of more nuclear strategic assets on a larger scale.” The dispatch to the UN called the drills a “clear threat to international peace and security.”
Yet, and despite repeated appeals to avoid escalating tensions, the US is increasing its military buildup in the region. On Wednesday, the US 7th Fleet stationed in Japan announced that a third aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz strike group, arrived to join the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt strike groups already there.
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on September 3, forcing the UNSC to introduce new sanctions. The move, however, did not stop Pyongyang from launching a series of ballistic missiles later in September, while vowing to destroy the US and their allies with nuclear weapons if attacked.
With Pyongyang and Washington whipping up tensions, Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly called on both parties to remain calm. Russia and China have called for the implementation of the so-called “double freeze” initiative that envisages North Korea suspending its nuclear and missile program in exchange for the US and South Korea abandoning their military exercises in the region. The proposal has been rejected by Washington.