North Korea warned that a nuclear war “may break out any moment” as the U.S. and South Korea began one of the largest joint naval drills off both the east and west coasts of the peninsula.
Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday that his nation had become a “full-fledged nuclear power which possesses the delivery means of various ranges” and warned that “the entire U.S. mainland is within our firing range.” He also called North Korea “a responsible nuclear state.”
“As long as one does not take part in the U.S. military actions against the DPRK, we have no intention to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any other country,” Kim said, referring to his country’s formal name.
The comments are similar to other warnings North Korea has made over the past few months as tensions have increased with President Donald Trump’s administration. Kim Jong Un’s regime has repeatedly said it needs the capability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon in order to deter an American attack.
“They just bluff to the extreme because they think that if enough people worry about what they’re saying, that would deter U.S.-South Korean action,” Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at Rand Corp., said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “The problem is North Korea is used to using very extreme words to deter by bluff and by bluster, and now they’re shocked that the Americans are using a similar approach.”
Trump has said military force is an option to stop Kim and has ruled out talks with Pyongyang. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday the president wants him to push forward on diplomacy with North Korea “until the first bomb drops.”
A war of words has escalated between the two leaders in recent weeks, with Trump labeling Kim “Rocket Man” and telling the UN that the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if it attacks. Kim responded by calling Trump a “dotard” and warning of the "highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”
South Korean military officials are preparing for another possible missile launchfrom North Korea this week to counter the U.S.-South Korea drills, which include an American aircraft carrier and a nuclear submarine. China’s Communist Party will also start its most important political meeting in five years on Wednesday.
Russia on Monday urged the U.S. to reduce military drills near North Korea, reiterating a proposal for both sides to step back and calm tensions.
“I don’t remember a situation when the feeling of a coming disaster is so clear,” Tass cited Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora as saying.
Russia’s Interfax newswire reported on Monday that a meeting is possible this week between Joseph Yun, the U.S. representative for North Korea, and Choe Son Hui, head of the North American department at North Korea’s foreign ministry. Both are attending a non-proliferation conference in Moscow this week, it said.
The UN has tightened sanctions on North Korea this year in a bid to cut off cash flows that help support its nuclear program. Kim’s regime also generates billions of dollars a year dealing drugs, selling weapons, counterfeiting currencies and exploiting guest workers, according to the International Network for the Human Rights of North Korean Overseas Labor.