Trump Scorns ‘Madman’ Kim After Threat of H-Bomb Test in Pacific
By Shinhye Kang and Seyoon Kim
North Korea struck back at U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to destroy it, with Kim Jong Un warning of the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” and his foreign minister suggesting that could include testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho spoke to reporters on Thursday in New York, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly. He said in remarks broadcast on South Korean TV that the countermeasures flagged by Kim might refer to a “strongest-ever” ground-level test of a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific. Still, he added that “we have no idea what the measures will be” and that it was for Kim to decide, according to Yonhap News.
Trump responded Friday 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!”
Trump and Kim are engaged in an increasingly hostile war of words over North Korea’s weapons program, which has seen it launch intercontinental ballistic missiles and test its sixth — and most powerful — nuclear weapon in recent weeks. Trump this week threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it provokes the U.S. or allies, and ordered new sanctions on individuals, companies and banks doing business with Pyongyang.
The yen rose the most in two weeks as the fresh rhetoric from North Korea spurred demand for haven assets. Treasury yields and regional stocks fell after Yonhap reported Ri’s remarks.
His comments came after Trump ordered new sanctions on individuals, companies and banks doing business with North Korea as he sought to further isolate the regime and increase economic pressure for it to curb its weapons programs.
Ri’s address to the UN will be pushed back one day to Saturday, Yonhap reported, citing unidentified people. The reason for the delay is unclear, it said.
“Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history,” Kim said in the statement to the Korean Central News Agency, using the initials for his country’s formal name.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said that other than routine public addresses, this is the first such direct statement by a North Korean leader it has found.
Following Kim’s statement and Ri’s remarks, the ministry urged North Korea to stop its hostile policy against other nations. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo that the statement was provocative and unacceptable.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Friday at a briefing in Beijing that he wouldn’t comment on personal remarks made by the parties involved. He reiterated China’s call for restraint and dialogue, saying that the situation on the Korean Peninsula was “complex and grave.”
Asked about North Korea’s threat to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that all military options are on the table.
“Once we can assess the nature of this threat, the president will make a decision regarding the appropriate actions,” Tillerson told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “That will be the president’s decision.”
The U.S. is “quite challenged” by the North Korean crisis, but diplomatic efforts continue with the sanctions imposed on Kim’s regime Thursday, Tillerson said.
“Voices from every corner of the world are calling on him to cease his program, and let’s talk about the future of North Korea and the North Korean people,” Tillerson said.
North Korea has claimed progress in its ability to miniaturize a nuclear bomb to fit a warhead onto a missile. Still, it would be unlikely for North Korea to carry out a threat to test a nuclear weapon in the Pacific, according to William McKinney, a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“I think it is more that Ri’s bluster is designed to put him in good standing with his boss Kim Jong Un — they had to figure out a way to respond to the ‘Rocket Man’ comment,” McKinney said. “No one has done an above-ground test in decades,” he said. “If they did, it would be condemned by everyone — the Chinese and the Russians would be just as upset as the United States.”
McKinney, a retired Army colonel who spent more than 40 years working on U.S.-Korea military planning, said he was more concerned that North Korea may test-fire a missile toward Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. “That would highlight the fact that the existential threat to the U.S., is real,” he said.
Ri’s comments appeared directed at a ground-level test. Still, the concept of shooting a missile tipped with a hydrogen bomb into the Pacific doesn’t sound far-fetched if North Korea has succeeded in miniaturizing warheads, said Tahk Min-jea, who teaches rocket science at South Korea’s Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology.
“If not possible now, it would be certainly be possible within months or a year,” Tahk said. “North Korea has so far proven most of its claims.”
In addition to the executive order, Trump said that China is ordering banks to stop dealing with Kim Jong Un’s regime. It was unclear if he was referring to a new development or the People’s Bank of China’s Sept. 11 statement that it had instructed banks and other financial entities to suspend accounts subject to sanctions under a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Chinese banks are especially vulnerable to sanctions because they had $144 billion of assets in the U.S. at the end of December, according to data from the U.S. Federal Reserve. Most of those assets are held by Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
Trump has repeatedly called out China, North Korea’s largest trading partner and its main ally, for failing to do enough to rein in its errant neighbor. But on Thursday he praised President Xi Jinping for a “very bold move” in acting to cut off financial ties with North Korea and said it was “somewhat unexpected.”
China’s Lu said that his nation was opposed to all sanctions outside of the UN framework.
A “signed article” published on KCNA said the sanctions resolution was “the dirty excrement of the reactionaries of history,” while having a dig at China for “going under the armpit of the U.S. while holding a white flag to blame the good neighbor.”
— With assistance by Sam Kim, David Tweed, Peter Martin, and Nick Wadhams