A North Korean government minister blamed Donald Trump’s aggressive tweets Friday for the “vicious cycle” of tension currently permeating the Korean peninsula, and issued a stark warning to the U.S. that any “reckless military maneuvers” will be met with a “powerful nuclear deterrent” — just days ahead of a visit to the region by Vice President Mike Pence.
This unexpected shot from Pyongyang comes after weeks of escalating brinksmanship in the region, with the U.S. increasing its military presence in order to send a clear message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that it will not tolerate the country’s continued military buildup. China, which Trump is seeking to co-opt as a partner in this battle, warned both sides Friday that whoever starts a conflict in the region, there would be no winners.
The latest comments in this saga were made by North Korea’s vice foreign minister Han Song Ryol. “If the U.S. comes with reckless military maneuvers then we will confront it with the DPRK’s pre-emptive strike,” he told Associated Press. “We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. pre-emptive strike.”
Han may well have been reacting to a story published Thursday evening by NBC, which claimed the Pentagon was preparing to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea if Pyongyang pulls the trigger on another nuclear test. The report has not been corroborated by any other news outlets and a senior administration official told the AP it was “completely false” that the U.S. was preparing for a pre-emptive strike.
Analysis of satellite imagery made public Thursday suggested North Korea’s nuclear testing facility was “primed and ready” for another test. Han confirmed that a sixth nuclear test would happen, but wouldn’t expand on when. “That is something that our headquarters decides,” Han said. “At a time and at a place where the headquarters deems necessary, it will take place.”
Han spoke as the country prepared for its most important annual holiday known as the “Day of the Sun” on Saturday, which marks the 105th anniversary of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung.
In recent months tensions have grown between North Korea on one side, and the U.S., South Korea and Japan on the other, with China attempting to balance its close economic and political ties with Pyongyang and its position as a global superpower.
The U.S. and South Korea are currently conducting their biggest-ever joint military exercises in the region, drills which Pyongyang believes are preparations for an invasion. On April 8, the U.S. government dispatched a Navy carrier strike group to the area, further increasing tensions.
North Korea has also inflamed the situation, ramping up the number of missile tests it has carried out in recent months – in direct contravention of sanctions imposed on them by the UN. But despite all this military action, Han believes that Trump is to blame for the current situation on the Korean Peninsula.
“Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words,” Han said. “So that’s why. It’s not the DPRK but the U.S. and Trump that makes trouble.”
In recent days Trump has issued a series of tweets about the situation in North Korea, calling the country a “menace” and saying it was “looking for trouble.”
Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the situation on Wedneaday, suggesting that China would “do the right thing” in return for a better trade deal. On Friday China’s foreign minister sought to position Beijing as a peacemaker, warning that whatever side started a conflict, there would be no winners.
“Once a war really happens, the result will be nothing but multiple-loss,” Wang Yi told reporters. “No one can become a winner. No matter who it is, if it wants to make war or trouble on the Korean Peninsula, it must take the historical responsibility and pay the due price.”
South Korea’s foreign ministry criticized Han’s comments, saying they show the “true colors of North Korea’s government that is bellicose and a breaker of regulations.”