North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivered a scathing rebuke Friday of U.S. President Donald Trump, calling him “mentally deranged” and vowing to make him “pay dearly” for threatening to “totally destroy” his country — a possible allusion to further weapons tests as the country’s top diplomat hinted that a hydrogen bomb test may be carried out over the Pacific Ocean.
Kim said in a statement carried by state media that Trump “has rendered the world restless through threats and blackmail against all countries in the world,” calling him “unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country” and referring to him as “a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire.”
Kim’s statement, unusual in that it was written in the first person and was apparently his first direct appeal to the world, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, came after Trump, in his inaugural speech before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, laid into the regime and Kim himself.
At the U.N., Trump said he would “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if Pyongyang threatens the United States and its allies, and called Kim a “rocket man” who is “on a suicide mission.”
In response, Kim said the North will consider the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” against the U.S. and that Trump’s comments had confirmed that the decision to pursue nuclear weapons and missiles capable of striking the United States had been the “correct” path.
“Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history,” Kim wrote.
“Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say,” he said, adding that Trump “will face results beyond his expectation.”
“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” Kim said.
It is unclear what, if any “action” Kim will order next, but North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho hinted that the country could conduct an atmospheric or underwater nuclear test. China was the last country to conduct an atmospheric atomic test, in 1980.
“It could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Ri as saying at the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. “We have no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong Un.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the North’s remarks and behavior “absolutely unacceptable” and provocative to regional and global security.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said that if the North uses a ballistic missile to carry an H-bomb to the Pacific, “we cannot rule out the possibility that it could fly over Japan.” Speaking at a news conference, Onodera said the North may intend “to conduct some sort of test by miniaturizing a nuclear warhead and loading it onto a long- or medium-range missile.”
Kim’s statement came just hours after Trump ordered fresh unilateral sanctions that took aim at the North’s nuclear and missile programs by sanctioning banks, other entities and individuals that trade with the isolated nation.
The new sanctions ordered by Trump enable the U.S. Treasury Department to ban any individual trading goods, services or technology with North Korea from making transactions with the U.S. financial system, the White House said in a statement.
The order also sanctions any foreign bank that knowingly conducts or facilitates transactions tied to trade with the country.
Tensions have soared in East Asia as the North continues to resist growing international pressure to halt its ever-improving nuclear and missile programs, with Trump and Kim trading increasingly menacing barbs.
The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.
Pyongyang accuses Washington — which has 28,500 troops in South Korea and 47,000 service members in Japan — of planning to invade, and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.
The country conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test — purportedly of a thermonuclear, or hydrogen bomb — on Sept. 3 and has launched dozens of missiles this year as it moves closer to mastering the technology needed to reliably target the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.
In July, it conducted two tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that experts say is capable of striking a large chunk of the U.S. and last week lobbed an intermediate-range missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean for the second time. That missile traveled some 3,700 km, stoking concern in Tokyo and putting the U.S. territory of Guam, home to key American military bases, easily within striking distance.
Last month, North Korea had threatened to fire a salvo of four missiles toward Guam to bracket the island — some 3,400 km from Pyongyang — with “enveloping” fire.
Daniel Pinkston, an East Asia expert at Troy University in Seoul, said that rather than a kinetic or conventional attack such as its shelling of the South’s Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010, a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific would be a likely next step for the North and its progressing nuclear program.
“Some kind of kinetic attack against the ROK doesn’t make much sense,” Pinkston said, using the acronym for South Korea’s formal name, the Republic of Korea. “If the scientists and engineers are confident it will work, Kim might order it, and then warn Trump that any attack against North Korea by the U.S. will trigger immediate nuclear retaliation against U.S. targets.
Such a move, Pinkston said, would put the U.S. and its allies “in a very dangerous position.”
Some analysts and observers have said that Trump’s U.N. speech, as well as his warning to Pyongyang last month that he would rain “fire and fury” on the North if it threatened the U.S., had been gifts to Kim, reinforcing the dictator’s belief that nuclear weapons were essential to ensuring his regime’s survival.
However, Van Jackson, a senior lecturer in international relations at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, said there is another way of viewing the incendiary Trump-Kim barbs.
“Trump’s speech was dangerous and unhelpful because it puts Kim Jong Un in a corner, not because it helps North Korean propaganda — even though it does,” Jackson said. “It’s clear from the Kim statement that he felt personally insulted by Trump’s speech.”
Jackson, a North Korea expert and former policy adviser in the U.S. office of the secretary of defense, said that although some phrases and threat rhetoric in the statement were recycled, “it’s rare that the phrases come from Kim Jong Un directly. The bluster for which North Korea is famous doesn’t usually get attributed to individuals making a statement, let alone to Kim.”
While the U.S. has said that “all options are on the table” — including military action — for dealing with the North Korean crisis, the White House has also maintained that diplomacy was the preferred route.
The tough language in Kim’s statement, however, likely means that any push for dialogue will likely be sidelined in the near-term.
“To the extent that Kim Jong Un had been holding open a door to a diplomatic solution, he’s now closed it,” said Jackson. “The tone of the statement has the ring of finality and resolve.”
Jackson said that rather than seeking a nuclear arsenal to deter the U.S. and its allies and secure the safety of the North Korean regime, Kim might instead have envisioned grander ambitions.
“I’m concerned the path he has in mind isn’t so much the nuclear program as a forced solution to the problem of Korean unification and the fracture of the U.S.-South Korea alliance,” Jackson said.
Pyongyang, he said, “needs to do something provocative for the sake of deterrence, and perhaps, too, for salving wounded pride.”
Information from Kyodo added