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Kim Jong Un, left, and Donald Trump have been trading increasingly strong insults and threats over recent weeks.   © Reuters
Politics

North Korea writes to other countries that chance of nuclear war rises

War of words continues as North Korea responds to Trump jibes

NEW YORK/TOKYO -- The war of words between the U.S. and North Korea escalated Monday, as North Korean state media announced that a parliamentary committee had sent an open letter to the parliaments of other countries warning that recent comments by U.S. President Donald Trump had raised the chances of nuclear war.

The letter was sent Sunday by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, according to the Korean Central News Agency. 

At the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho has warned that his country's targeting of the U.S. mainland with its rockets was inevitable after a running war of words between Trump and North Korea supreme leader Kim Jong Un.

Ri called Trump "a mentally deranged person full of megalomania and complacency" who is trying to turn the United Nations into a "gangsters' nest."

"'President Evil' is holding the seat of the U.S. President," Ri said, warning that his country was "finally only a few steps away from the final gate of completion of the state nuclear force."

National leaders and senior representatives have fought a war of words over North Korea's missile and nuclear development programs this month, amid increasingly bellicose rhetoric on the subject at the latest United Nations General Assembly session.

Trump had earlier implied the U.S. could launch military attacks against North Korea, prompting a harsh condemnation from Ri. Kim, who did not attend the session, also denounced Trump in a statement issued from Pyongyang.

Ri said sanctions would have no effect on Pyongyang's resolve to develop its nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal being "balance of power with the U.S." He said Trump's actions constituted "an irreversible mistake of making our rockets' visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable all the more."

In a statement released Sept. 21, and reported by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, Kim said his country would carefully "consider ... a corresponding, highest level of hardline countermeasure in history" against the U.S. This was the first time a government statement has been issued under Kim's name.

In the statement, Kim claimed that Trump has "denied the existence of, and insulted, me and my country ... and made ... declaration of a war..."

"On behalf of [our] dignity and honor...and of my own, I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly [for his rude, absurd remarks]," it continued.

Referring to the "hardline countermeasure" mentioned in Kim's statement, Ri told the press in New York on Sept. 21 that it may allude to a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean.

What sparked the ire of North Korea's leadership was the content of a speech Trump made at the UN on Sept. 19. "The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," Trump told the leaders, ministers and envoys of 193 countries gathered in New York for the annual General Assembly meeting.

Trump was unreserved in his contempt for Kim, who he referred to as "rocket man ... on a suicide mission for himself and his regime."

A day earlier, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said his country had military options for dealing with North Korea that wouldn't put South Korea's capital of Seoul at risk. "Yes, there are. But I will not go into details," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.

On Sept. 20, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the rostrum in the UN General Assembly, where he devoted most of his 16 minute speech to criticizing North Korea and restating Japan's cooperation with the U.S. over the issue.

Abe pointed out the fact that North Korea's ballistic missiles successively flew over Japan in August and September. "The gravity of this threat is unprecedented. It is indisputably a matter of urgency," he said. Abe also appealed for unity in the international community to increase pressure on North Korea.

Meanwhile, South Korea, which seemed to come into line with Japan and the U.S. in stepping up pressure on North Korea, decided on Sept. 21 to provide financial assistance worth $8 million to North Korea through UN agencies. The country will provide $3.5 million to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and $4.5 million to the World Food Programme, according to South Korea's Ministry of Unification.

This appears to have given Washington the impression that South Korea's stance toward the North is not fixed, at a time when the U.N. Security Council is strengthening economic sanctions against Pyongyang, and as missile and nuclear tests continue.

Japan, the U.S. and South Korea held a summit in New York on Sept. 21, where they confirmed that they would continue to cooperate closely over the North Korea issues. At the summit, Trump and Abe told South Korean President Moon Jae-in of their concerns about the decision on humanitarian support for North Korea with this timing and asked him to act cautiously.

Trump said at the start of the summit that he would cut off sources of funds for North Korea, and announced that the U.S. would impose new economic sanctions on overseas companies, banks and individuals that do business with North Korea. A new executive order has since given the U.S. Treasury Department to impose sanctions on organizations and individuals dealing with Pyongyang.

Moon, South Korea's president, told U.N. General Assembly that sanctions were needed to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table, but that Seoul was not seeking to destroy North Korea.

"All of our endeavors are to prevent war from breaking out and maintain peace," Moon said in his speech on Sept. 21.

After Moon's speech, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned Pyongyang's missile and nuclear "adventures" but warned "military hysteria is not just an impasse, it's a disaster."

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged North Korea not to go further in a "dangerous direction" with its nuclear program. "There is still hope for peace and we must not give up. Negotiation is the only way out ... Parties should meet each other half way, by addressing each other's legitimate concerns," Wang said.

Meanwhile, military tensions around the Korean Peninsula have risen.

Hours before North Korean Foreign Minister Ri's remarks, a squadron of U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers and a fighter escort flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea in a show of force. It was the farthest north of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea that any U.S. fighter jet or bomber has flown in the 21st century, the Pentagon said.

The South Korean military plans to conduct joint drills with a U.S. carrier strike group in October. The U.S. forces are expected to successively dispatch B-1 bombers and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to areas near the Korean Peninsula. The aim would be to hold in check additional provocative acts North Korea might carry out around Oct. 10, the anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

Meanwhile, the Chinese and Russian navies commenced joint military exercises in the Sea of Japan, near the Korean Peninsula, and the Sea of Okhotsk on Sept. 18. The exercises are expected to continue until Sept. 26. China and Russia remain opposed to U.S. military operations against North Korea.

Nikkei staff writers Yukio Tajima in New York and Kenichi Yamada in Seoul contributed to this report.

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