Kim hints at trade-off on US-Korean exercises
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been briefed on a plan to fire missiles towards the US territory of Guam, home to US air and naval bases, Pyongyang's state media said yesterday.
Kim "examined the plan for a long time" and "discussed it" with commanding officers on Monday, during his inspection of the command of the Strategic Force in charge of the North's missile units, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
The state-run news agency said Kim would watch the actions of the United States for a while longer before making a decision on how to respond.
"The United States, which was the first to bring numerous strategic nuclear equipment near us, should first make the right decision and show through actions if they wish to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and prevent a dangerous military clash," Kim was quoted as saying.
The news agency continued: "He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the latter will make an important decision, as it already declared."
Kim's reported remarks would appear to bring into play the large-scale military exercises held every year by South Korea and the United States, which are expected to kick off again later this month.
The North has always denounced the drills as provocative rehearsals for invasion and has in the past offered a moratorium on further nuclear and missile testing in exchange for their cancellation. This trade-off has been promoted by Pyongyang's main ally, China, but repeatedly rejected by both Washington and Seoul.
Some analysts said the North Korean leader was seeking a similar quid pro quo this time around, using the Guam missile threat as leverage.
"This is a direct invitation to talk reciprocal constraints on exercises and missile launches," said Adam Mount, senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday that he agreed with US President Donald Trump during a phone call that their top priority on North Korea was to do what they could to halt its missile launches.
"Through a firm partnership between Japan and the US and co-operating with China, Russia and the international community, we agreed that our priority was to work to ensure that North Korea doesn't launch more missiles," Mr Abe told reporters.
He also praised a commitment by Mr Trump that the United States would ensure the security of US allies in the region as threats from North Korea intensify.
"President Trump reaffirmed that the United States stands ready to defend and respond to any threat or actions taken by North Korea against the United States or its allies, South Korea and Japan," the White House said in a statement.
The stand-off has sparked global alarm, with world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, urging calm on both sides. South Korean President Moon Jae-in weighed in yesterday, saying Seoul would avoid a second Korean War at all costs.
"Military action on the Korean peninsula can only be decided by the Republic of Korea and no one may decide to take military action without the consent of the Republic of Korea," Mr Moon said.
But he added that there could be no dialogue before the North halts its "nuclear and missile provocations".
On Monday, James Mattis, the US defence secretary, said if North Korean missiles were considered to be a threat to Guam "then it's game on". He added: "We do our best to make sure it does not hit the US."
Pyongyang's plans for the strike near Guam prompted a fresh surge in tensions last week, with Mr Trump warning he would unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea if it threatened the US.