North Korea’s foreign minister said, on Monday, President Trump had declared war on North Korea and that Pyongyang reserved the right to take countermeasures, including shooting down U.S. bombers even if they are not in its air space.
Ri Yong Ho said a Twitter message by Trump on Saturday, in which the president warned that the minister and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “won’t be around much longer” if they acted on their threats, amounted to a declaration of war.
White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, denied the United States had declared war, calling the suggestion “absurd”.
Speaking earlier in New York, where he had been attending the annual U.N. General Assembly, Ri told reporters: “The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country.”
“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country.
“The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then,” Ri added.
On Saturday, U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighters flew east of North Korea in a show of force after a heated exchange of rhetoric between Trump and Kim over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
“That operation was conducted in international airspace, over international waters, so we have the right to fly, sail and operate where legally permissible around the globe,” said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning.
North Korea, which has remained technically at war with the United States since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce and not a peace treaty, has been working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test this month.
Pyongyang, which has pursued its missile and nuclear programs in defiance of international sanctions, accuses the United States of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.
In an unprecedented direct statement on Friday, Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” he would tame with fire.
Kim said North Korea would consider the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” against the United States and that Trump’s comments had confirmed Pyongyang’s nuclear programme was “the correct path”.
Ri told the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday targeting the U.S. mainland with its rockets was inevitable after “Mr Evil President” Trump called Kim a “rocket man” on a suicide mission.
On Monday, White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster defended Trump’s rhetoric, saying he agreed with the U.S. president that the risk was that Kim Jong Un might fail to realise the danger he and his country were facing.
McMaster voiced confidence that the United States could, for example, impose a military blockade if it chose, perhaps even as a part of a multinational effort. But he acknowledged risks of escalation with any U.S. military option.
“We don’t think there’s an easy military solution to this problem. There’s not a precision strike that solves the problem. There’s not a military blockade that can solve the problem,” he said, adding that ultimately it would come down to an international effort.
Still, McMaster told a conference hosted by the Institute for the Study of War, Washington was concerned a nuclear-armed North Korea capable of hitting the United States was likely to engage in “nuclear blackmail,” for instance to try to achieve its goal of getting U.S. troops off the Korean peninsula.
Meanwhile, Ri warned, on Friday, North Korea might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, in what would be North Korea’s first atmospheric nuclear test.
Experts said such a move, while perhaps not imminent, would be proof of North Korea’s ability to successfully deliver a nuclear warhead on a missile.