President Donald Trump’s tweets are adding fuel to a “vicious cycle” of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea’s vice foreign minister said today. The official, in an exclusive interview to The Associated Press, said that if the US shows any sign of “reckless” military aggression, Pyongyang is ready to launch a pre- emptive strike of its own. Vice Minister Han Song Ryol said Pyongyang has determined the Trump administration is “more vicious and more aggressive” than that of Barack Obama. He added that North Korea will keep building up its nuclear arsenal in “quality and quantity” and said Pyongyang is ready to go to war if that’s what Trump wants.
Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington go back to President Harry Truman and the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. But the heat has been rising rapidly since Trump took office in January.
This year’s joint war games between the US and South Korean militaries are the biggest so far the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier has been diverted back to the waters off Korea after heading for Australia, and US satellite imagery suggests the North could conduct another underground nuclear test at any time.
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Pyongyang recently tested a ballistic missile and claims it is close to perfecting an intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear warhead that could attack the US mainland.
Many experts believe that at its current pace of testing, North Korea could reach that potentially game-changing milestone within a few years under Trump’s watch as president. Despite reports that Washington is considering military action if the North goes ahead with another nuclear test, Han did not rule out the possibility of a test in the near future. “That is something that our headquarters decides,” he said during the 40-minute interview in Pyongyang, which is now gearing up for a major holiday and possibly a big military parade tomorrow. “At a time and at a place where the headquarters deems necessary, it will take place.”
The North conducted two such tests last year alone. The first was of what it claims to have been a hydrogen bomb and the second was its most powerful ever. Expectations are high the North may put its newest missiles on display during tomorrow’s parade.
The annual US-South Korea military exercises have consistently infuriated the North, which views them as rehearsals for an invasion. Washington and Seoul deny that, but reports that exercises have included “decapitation strikes” aimed at the North’s leadership have fanned Pyongyang’s anger. Han said Trump’s tweets have also added fuel to the flames.
Trump posted a tweet Tuesday in which he said the North is “looking for trouble” and reiterated his call for more pressure from Beijing, North Korea’s economic lifeline, to clamp down on trade and strengthen its enforcement of UN sanctions to persuade Pyongyang to denuclearise.
Trump has threatened that if Beijing isn’t willing to do more to squeeze the North, the US might take the matter into its own hands. “Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words,” Han said. “It’s not the DPRK but the US and Trump that makes trouble.” North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.