N. Korea: Trump the one on suicide mission

US Air Force bombers flew over international waters east of N. Korea, and a tremor struck close to N. Korea’s nuclear test site


SEOULNorth Korea’s foreign minister unleashed a torrent of criticism at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in response to US President Donald Trump’s speech at the same venue, saying Pyongyang is ready for a preemptive nuclear attack if needed.

Ri Yong Ho’s comments came hours after US Air Force bombers flew over international waters east of North Korea, and a tremor struck close to North Korea’s nuclear test site.

“The very reason the DPRK had to possess nuclear weapons is because of the US,” Ri told the gathering in a 22-minute speech, using an acronym for North Korea’s formal name. “The US hostile policy and nuclear threats have continued over 70 years, and these have led the situation on the Korean peninsula to a touch-andgo point.”

While tensions between the two countries may be decades old, the new US president has pushed Pyongyang closer to the tipping point, Ri said. He cited Trump’s “lacking of basic common knowledge and proper sentiment,” and the US president’s insults toward North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un (picture).

“None other than Trump himself is on a suicide mission,” Ri said through the UN’s simultaneous translation. “In case innocent lives of the US are lost because of this suicide attack, Trump will be held totally responsible.”

Trump, in his debut speech to the UN General Assembly on Sept 19, threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it didn’t abandon its nuclear weapons programme. He mocked Kim with a taunt first used on Twitter days before: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”

He followed that up on Saturday night on Twitter, posting: “Just heard foreign minister of North Korea speak at UN. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!” Earlier on Saturday, US Air Force bombers flew over international waters east of North Korea as tension simmers between the two nations and their respective leaders, and a tremor earlier struck close to North Korea’s nuclear test site. The US B-1B Lancer bombers, based in Guam, and F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan, flew the farthest north of the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ, any US fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century, Dana White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.

The exercises were meant to underscore “the seriousness with which we take DPRK’s reckless behaviour,” White said, using an acronym for North Korea. “This mission is a demonstration of US resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options.”

The DMZ is a strip of land that has divided South Korea and North Korea since 1953.

The tremor occurred at 4:29pm China time yesterday with a magnitude of 3.4 and a depth of zero kilometers, the China Earthquake Networks Centre said in a statement. South Korea’s weather agency said in a statement on its website that it was not artificially triggered.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) put the quake’s magnitude at 3.5 and its depth at five kilometers (3.1 miles). On its website, the USGS said that it “cannot conclusively confirm at this time the nature (natural or human-made) of the event”.

North Korea detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear weapon earlier this month at its underground Punggye-ri site northeast of Pyongyang, causing a quake with a magnitude of around 6.3. The move escalated tensions with the US and North Korea’s neighbours, and this week its foreign minister said the regime’s options included testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.

There have been concerns about the stability of the nuclear test site since the Sept 3 detonation. Website 38 North said satellite imagery taken after that test appeared to show landslides atop the site that were more numerous and widespread than after the previous five tests.

The website, run by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, added the bomb’s 250kilotonne yield was close to what it previously determined was the maximum that could be contained by the test site.

The Sept 3 detonation followed two intercontinental ballistic missile launches in July that brought Kim’s isolated regime a step closer to achieving its aim of being able to deploy a nuclear warhead over the continental US.

Last Thursday, North Korea struck back at Trump’s threats, with Kim warning of the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” and Ri suggesting that could include testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. — Bloomberg