North Korea has issued a fresh threat to South Korea and the United States, warning that, “The moment of explosion is approaching fast.”
The latest broadside from the North also referenced the country’s “smaller, lighter and diversified” nuclear force, and follows weeks of belligerent rhetoric and threats from Pyongyang. A report by state news agency KCNA said:
“The moment of explosion is approaching fast. No one can say a war will break out in Korea or not and whether it will break out today or tomorrow. The responsibility for this grave situation entirely rests with the US administration and military warmongers keen to encroach upon [North Korea]’s sovereignty and bring down its dignified social system with brigandish logic.”
The latest warning from North Korea comes after the isolated country sealed off access to the Kaesŏng Industrial Park, a series of factories run jointly by the North and South Korea. The regime in Pyongyang has also revealed it plans to restart a mothballed nuclear reactor that was shut down in 2007 as part of disarmament talks.
The United States has responded to recent threats by flying nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 jets over South Korea, positioning a warship close to North Korean waters, and sending ballistic missile defenses to Guam, a Pacific territory that is home to US naval and air bases.
Though many commentators believe the North is some way from being capable of delivering a nuclear warhead on a missile, the US is wary of second-guessing the motives behind Pyongyang’s threats. Speaking at Washington’s National Defense University (below), Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said:
“It only takes being wrong once, and I don’t want to be the secretary of defense who was wrong once.”
Hagel also urged North Korea to cease its threats and lower tensions on the Korean Peninsula:
“I hope the North will ratchet this very dangerous rhetoric down. There is a pathway that is responsible for the North to get on a path to peace working with their neighbors. There are many, many benefits to their people that could come. But they have got to be a responsible member of the world community, and you don’t achieve that responsibility and peace and prosperity by making nuclear threats and taking very provocative actions.”
However, while Washington continues to warn Pyongyang over its heated rhetoric, North Korea says the US is to blame for the current predicament:
“We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating US hostile policy toward the DPRK and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed by the strong will of all the united service personnel and people and cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK and that the merciless operation of its revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified. The US had better ponder over the prevailing grave situation.”
Most observers believe an attack on a US target remains highly unlikely, but Pyongyang is known to have medium-range ballistic missiles that could easily threaten South Korea and Japan. Should such an attack occur, the US may be forced to play a role in a retaliatory attack.