PYONGYANG - United States (US) Vice President, Mike Pence put North Korea on notice on Monday that neither the United States nor South Korea would tolerate further missile or nuclear tests by the reclusive state, with the US attack on Syria showing its resolve.
However, senior North Korean officials remained defiant, threatening that “nuclear war could break out at any time” and that the North would “destroy the aggressors without any mercy” should the US strike first.
Pence and South Korean acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn expressed disappointment over China’s retaliatory actions against South Korea in response to the deployment of US missile defence system THAAD in the South, but reaffirmed their plan to go ahead with its deployment.
“We have agreed to further strengthen the readiness posture of ROK-US alliance that matches the threats posed by North Korea through a swift deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD),” said Hwang Kyo-Ahn at a joint conference with Pence.
At a White House Easter celebration on Monday, US President Donald Trump was asked if he had a message for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and replied: “Gotta behave.”
North Korea’s deputy representative to the UN, Kim In-ryong accused Washington of creating “a situation where nuclear war could break out an any time” and said Pyongyang’s next nuclear test would take place “at a time and at a place where our headquarters deems necessary”.
North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol told the BBC that missiles would continue to be tested on “a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.”
Kim Song-gyong, director general of the European Department of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said that if Washington made “the slightest movement” to make a nuclear strike on North Korea, Pyongyang would strike first and “destroy the aggressors without any mercy.”
He went on to clarify that the approach of a US naval strike force led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to Korean waters would not be considered enough to constitute “the slightest movement”.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang voiced China’s opposition to the THAAD system at a regular briefing, and also urged all parties to work together to maintain peace and stability in the region.
China says the system’s powerful radar is a threat to its security. The United States and South Korea say it is only aimed at defence against North Korean missiles.
Pence is on the first stop of a four-nation Asia tour intended to show America’s allies - and remind its adversaries - that the Trump administration is not turning its back on the increasingly volatile region.
He visited the demilitarised zone (DMZ), a heavily mined, 4km-wide strip of land lined with barbed wire running across the Korean peninsula, with soldiers on both sides in a continual eyeball-to-eyeball standoff.
Pence earlier said he was “heartened” by early signs from China and hoped its leaders would “use the extraordinary levers they have” to prod Kim into giving up his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.