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North Korea accuses Trump of declaring war

© Jewel Samad, AFP | North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho leaves his hotel in New York on September 25, 2017.

Video by Jessica LE MASURIER

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-09-26

North Korea's foreign minister has accused US President Donald Trump of declaring war on his country, adding that Pyongyang has "every right" to shoot down US bombers.

"The whole world should clearly remember it was the US who first declared war on our country," Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters in New York on Monday.

"Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country," Ri said.

"The question of who won't be around much longer will be answered then," the minister added, in a direct reference to a Twitter post by Trump on Saturday.

The White House promptly disputed his interpretation of Trump's saber rattling.

"We have not declared war against North Korea and frankly the suggestion of that is absurd," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

‘It is a much more unstable situation than in the past'

The latest threats stoked a week-long war of words that began when the American leader threatened, in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, to "totally destroy" North Korea if it launches an attack.

In an unprecedented direct statement on Friday, North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un described Trump as a "mentally deranged US dotard" whom he would tame with fire.

Kim said North Korea would consider the "highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history" against the US and that Trump's comments had confirmed his nuclear programme was "the correct path".

The next day, his foreign minister told the UN General Assembly that Pyongyang would be compelled to target the US mainland with its rockets after "Mr Evil President" Trump called Kim a "rocket man" on a suicide mission.

Shortly after, Trump tweeted: "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!"

North Korea, which has pursued its missile and nuclear programmes in defiance of international condemnation and economic sanctions, said it "bitterly condemned the reckless remarks" by Trump.

They were an "intolerable insult to the Korean people" and a declaration of war, the North's official news agency said on Monday.

‘Kindergarten fight’

The increasingly heated rhetoric between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is raising fears of a risk of a miscalculation by one side or the other that could have massive repercussions.

South Korea appealed for an easing of tensions Monday, with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha saying that further provocations can be expected from Pyongyang but must not be allowed to get out of control.

"It's very likely that North Korea will conduct further provocations," Kang said. "Under these circumstances it is imperative that we – Korea and the United States – manage the situation with astuteness and steadfastness in order to prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes in the region which can quickly spiral out of control."

"There cannot be another war in the region," Kang said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The consequences would be devastating not just for the Korean Peninsula but for Northeast Asia and indeed the whole international community."

Kang said North Korea's nuclear program seems to be at a "tipping point", approaching the goal of having a nuclear-armed missile that could reach the continental United States.

She voiced South Korean support for the US-led strategy of "maximum pressure" on North Korea as a tool to get Pyongyang to negotiate on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula – not at toppling the North Korean government.

"There is still room for diplomacy," Kang said, but "time is running out".

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has compared the past week's rhetoric to a "kindergarten fight between children" and had urged the "hot heads" to calm down.

China called on Monday for all sides in the North Korea missile crisis to show restraint and not "add oil to the flames."

Asked how concerned China was the war of words between Trump and North Korea could get out of control, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang described the situation as highly complex and sensitive.

It was vitally important everyone strictly, fully and correctly implemented all North Korea-related UN resolutions, Lu said, resolutions which call for both tighter sanctions and efforts to resume dialogue.

All sides should "not further irritate each other and add oil to the flames of the tense situation on the peninsula at present", Lu told a daily news briefing.

North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb test on Sept. 3. Pyongyang said on Friday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

While China has been angered by North Korea's repeated nuclear and missile tests, it has also called for the United States and its allies to help lessen tension by dialling back their military drills.

US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighters flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea on Saturday in a show of force the Pentagon said indicated the range of military options available to Trump.

In response to a question about the exercises, Chinese spokesman Lu said: "A continued rise in tensions on the peninsula, I believe, is not in the interests of any side."

Pyongyang accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950s conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)

Date created : 2017-09-25

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