North Korea’s foreign minister said on Monday President Donald 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 on Monday 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.
The latest round of heavy verbal salvoes began when Trump threatened in his maiden U.N. address last Tuesday to “totally destroy” North Korea, a country of 26 million people, if it threatened the United States or its allies.
In an unprecedented direct statement on Friday, Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” he would tame with fire.
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 Twitter late Saturday, Trump replied: “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”
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 realize the danger he and his country were facing.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said it was vital Seoul and the United States handle the situation “with astuteness and steadfastness … to prevent a further escalation of tension or any kind of accidental military clashes in the region which can quickly spiral out of control.”
“There cannot be another outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula; the consequences would be devastating,” she told Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the most senior serving U.S. official ever to visit Pyongyang, said it was “important to lower the temperature” of rhetoric.
“I‘m kind of concerned about accidents of some kind that might happen,” she said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the only solution to the crisis was a political one.
“Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.