Monday 22 January 2018

North Korea threatens H-bomb test in the Pacific

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. Photo: Getty Images
North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. Photo: Getty Images

Christine Kim and  Steve Holland Seoul, New York

North Korea said yesterday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean after US President Donald Trump vowed to destroy the reclusive country, with leader Kim Jong-un promising to make Mr Trump pay dearly for his threats.

Mr Kim did not specify what action he would take against the United States or Mr Trump, whom he called a "mentally deranged US dotard" in the latest bout of insults the two leaders have traded.

South Korea said it was the first direct statement of its kind by a North Korean leader.

However, Mr Kim's foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, said North Korea could consider a hydrogen bomb test of an unprecedented scale over the Pacific Ocean.

Mr Ri told reporters in New York he did not know Mr Kim's exact thoughts.

Japan, the only country ever to suffer an atomic attack, described the threat as "totally unacceptable".

The US president, who has not shrunk from fighting fire with fire in his rhetoric on North Korea, sent another message yesterday on Twitter.

"Kim Jong-un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before," Mr Trump said, a day after announcing additional sanctions on Pyongyang.

Mr Trump said in his first address to the United Nations on Tuesday he would "totally destroy" North Korea, a country of 26 million people, if it threatened the United States and its allies, and called Mr Kim a "rocket man" on a suicide mission.

Mr Kim said the North would consider the "highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history" against the United States and that Mr Trump's comments had confirmed his own nuclear programme was "the correct path".

Pyongyang conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on September 3 and has launched dozens of missiles this year as it accelerates a programme aimed at enabling it to target the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.

"I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire," Mr Kim said in the statement on the KCNA state news agency.

Asked about the North Korean hydrogen bomb threat, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told ABC that diplomatic efforts will continue but all military options were still on the table.

"We are quite challenged" with the escalating rhetoric, he said, but hoped increased sanctions and "voices from every corner of the world" would help lead Mr Kim to talks.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is taking Mr Kim's threat seriously.

Such a test would be a "game-changer" if North Korea actually did it, the official said.

But the official said there were questions about Pyongyang's technical capabilities and Washington does not give "too much credence" to Pyongyang taking such action.

"There's a certain amount of bluster that's taken for granted when you're dealing with North Korea," the official told Reuters.

Mr Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have agreed to Seoul's "acquisition and development of highly advanced military assets" and to increased deployment of US strategic assets in and around South Korea on a "rotational basis", the White House said yesterday.

The statement did not name any specific weapons systems.

In a separate report, KCNA made a rare criticism of official Chinese media, saying its comments on the North's nuclear programme had damaged ties and suggested Beijing, its only major ally, had sided with Washington.

Singling out the official 'People's Daily' and its more nationalistic sister publication, the 'Global Times', KCNA said Chinese media was "openly resorting to interference in the internal affairs of another country" and driving a wedge between the two countries.

At the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for statesmanship to avoid "sleepwalking" into a war.

South Korea, Russia and China all urged calm.

"All relevant sides should exercise restraint and dedicate themselves to easing the situation rather than irritating each other," said Lu Kang, China's foreign ministry spokesman.

However, the rhetoric was starting to rattle some in other countries. French Sports Minister Laura Flessel said France's team would not travel to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea if its security could not be guaranteed.

The 2018 Games are to be staged in Pyeongchang, just 80km from the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, the world's most heavily armed border.

Irish Independent

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