WASHINGTON — The latest round of military exercises by America and South Korea or U.S. President Donald Trump’s tour of Asia next month could form the backdrop for a new show of force by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Pyongyang could test a ballistic missile, a nuclear weapon or both during the drills, which began Monday, CNN quoted an unidentified North Korean official as saying that day. Such tests could also coincide with Trump’s visit to the region, according to the report.
“Before we can engage in diplomacy with the Trump administration, we want to send a clear message that the DPRK has a reliable defensive and offensive capability to counter any aggression from the United States,” the official was quoted as saying. North Korea’s full name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Two further steps are needed to demonstrate that North Korea has a credible nuclear deterrent, the official said: an above-ground nuclear denotation and a test of a missile capable of reaching Guam and beyond. Just last month, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho hinted that Pyongyang could test a hydrogen bomb somewhere above the Pacific Ocean.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula is “touch and go,” and “a nuclear war may break out any moment,” said Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, to a U.N. committee Monday.
“The entire U.S. mainland is within our firing range, and if the U.S. dares to invade our sacred territory even an inch it will not escape our severe punishment in any part of the globe,” he warned, according to media reports.
The deputy ambassador also decried alleged South Korean plans for a “decapitation operation” to eliminate the North Korean leadership as an insult to his nation. Those plans were reportedly stolen in a cyberattack on South Korean military and defense networks. A unit capable of undertaking such a strike is reportedly traveling aboard the American nuclear submarine Michigan during the ongoing military exercises with South Korea.
The Trump administration is sending mixed signals on its stance toward dialogue. The president tweeted Oct. 1 that “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” using his nickname for Kim Jong Un. But Tillerson himself told reporters Sunday that the U.S. would continue diplomatic efforts to solve the North Korea problem “until the first bomb drops.”
China, Pyongyang’s closest ally, has ratcheted up the pressure on Kim’s government through such steps as imposing restrictions on exports of refined petroleum products across the border and on North Korean client transactions at Chinese banks.
Beijing seeks to avoid any North Korean saber-rattling during the Chinese Communist Party congress this week, a crucial juncture for President Xi Jinping. But if anything, tensions are escalating. North Korean forces have been observed moving multiple mobile missile launchers out of storage, according to media reports.