North Korea’s top diplomat said Monday that a weekend tweet by US president Donald Trump was a ‘declaration of war’ and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down US bombers, even in international airspace.
It was the latest escalation in a week of undiplomatic exchanges between North Korea and the US during the UN General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters that the United Nations and the international community have said in recent days that they didn’t want ‘the war of words’ to turn into ‘real action.’
But he said that by tweeting that North Korea’s leadership led by Kim Jong Un ‘won’t be around much longer,’ Trump ‘declared the war on our country.’
Under the UN Charter, Ri said, North Korea has the right to self-defense and “every right” to take countermeasures, “including the right to shoot down the United States strategic bombers even when they’re not yet inside the airspace border of our country.”
Hours later, the White House pushed back on Ri’s claim, saying: “We have not declared war on North Korea.” The Trump administration, referring to the tweet, stressed that the US is not seeking to overthrow North Korea’s government.
US Cabinet officials, particularly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have insisted that the US-led campaign of diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea is focused on eliminating the pariah state’s nuclear weapons program, not its totalitarian government.
But the more Trump muddies the picture, the tougher it may become to maintain cooperation with China and Russia, which seek a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis and not a new US ally suddenly popping up on their borders. It also risks snuffing out hopes of persuading Kim’s government to enter negotiations when its survival isn’t assured.
Trump tweeted Saturday: “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!” Trump also used the derisive “Rocket Man” reference to Kim in his speech to the UN General Assembly on 19 September , but this time he added the word ‘little.’
This was not the first time North Korea has spoken about a declaration of war between the two countries. In July 2016, Pyongyang said US sanctions imposed on Kim were “a declaration of war” against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – the country’s official name – and it made a similar statement after a new round of UN sanctions in December. The North Korean leader used the words again Friday.