North Korea accuses Donald Trump of 'declaring war'

US Secretary of Defense Mattis has said that Trump has made his preference for diplomacy with North Korea clear. But just one day prior, North Korea's top envoy had accused the US of declaring war on his country.

After the war of words that erupted between North Korean officials and US President Donald Trump over the weekend and into the start of the week, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought Tuesday to de-escalate the tension by renewing calls for a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. 

In sideline comments during a visit to India, Mattis said that the US was continuing to "maintain the diplomatically led efforts in the United Nations."

Indien Besuch US-Verteidigungsminister Mattis

Mattis was in New Delhi to meet with Prime Miniser Modi

"That is our goal, to solve this diplomatically, and I believe President Trump has been very clear on this issue," Mattis said. The defense head also underscored that recent UN resolutions had "increased the pressure" on Kim Jong Un's regime, while highlighting that the US possessed the military capability to "deter North Korea's most dangerous threats."

Days of heated rhetoric

Mattis' statement came one day after North Korea's foreign minister struck back at the US president, providing the latest rhetorial attack in a series of heated comments that have raised concerns over the prospects of nuclear warfare between Pyongyang and Washington. 

"The whole world should clearly remember it was the US who first declared war on our country," Ri Yong Ho had told reporters outside the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Monday.

New York, Der nordkoreanische Außenminister Ri Yong-ho richtet sich an die 72. UN-Generalversammlung am U.N.-Hauptquartier

North Korea's foreign minister Ri Yong ho

Read more: Kim Jong Un calls Trump 'deranged,' H-bomb test threatened

"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 was referring to Trump's tweet over the weekend, where, in response to Ri's address before the General Assembly on Saturday, he posted that the North Korean regime "won't be around much longer."

Ri said "the question of who will be around much longer will be answered then."

The North Korean foreign minister made the remarks to reporters as he was leaving the United Nations. He then returned from his car to add: "In light of the declaration of war by Trump, all options will be on the operations table of the supreme leadership of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)."

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He did not comment on the US's decision earlier on Monday to extend its travel ban to bar North Korean nationals from entering the country

White House: 'We have not declared war on North Korea'

The White House responded to Ri's comments by Monday afternoon, calling them "absurd."

"We have not declared war on North Korea," White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.

The White House also criticized his assertion that Pyongyang would shoot down US military planes.

"It's never appropriate for a country to shoot down another country's aircraft over international airspace," Sanders said.

Pentagon pledges to provide Trump with 'all options'

Earlier on Monday, the Pentagon pledged to provide Trump with all options to deal with a North Korean military threat. 

Read more: Does the US have to accept North Korea as a nuclear power?

"If North Korea does not stop their provocative actions, you know, we will make sure that we provide options to the president to deal with North Korea," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning shortly after Ri's comments.

On Saturday the Pentagon confirmed that it had sent B-1B bombers from Guam and F-15 fighter escorts from Okinawa in Japan to fly through international airspace over the waters east of North Korea.

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North Korea calls attack on US mainland ‘inevitable’

It marked the farthest point north of the border between North and South Korea that any US aircraft had flown this century. The Pentagon said the mission showed "how seriously President Donald Trump takes North Korea's reckless behavior."

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has vowed to advance the country's nuclear weapons program, despite prompting international condemnation and sanctions. The North has repeatedly accused the US of planning to invade. Some 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. 

Beijing urges all sides to stop adding 'oil to flames'

Asked on Monday how concerned Beijing was that Trump and Kim's war of words could escalate, China's foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, said it was imperative that all UN resolutions related to Pyongyang be implemented and that dialogue be resumed.

Read more: Why China won't help US against North Korea

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 reporters during Monday's daily news briefing. "We hope all sides do not continue doing things to irritate each other and should instead exercise restraint." 

The UN has imposed a number of sanctions and embargoes against the North, including a ban on the export of weapons and various metals. Financial transactions with North Korean entities or individuals are also prohibited, although still remain commonplace.


Major achievement

In early June 2017, North Korea test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time. Testing an ICBM marked a major military achievement for Pyongyang and a serious escalation of tensions with the United States and its allies in the region, particularly South Korea and Japan.


Trouble with warheads

At the time, defense experts said the ICBM could reach as far as the US states of Alaska and Hawaii. However, it was unclear if North Korea can field an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead on its cone that could survive reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. North Korean state media claimed the ICBM was capable of carrying a "large, heavy nuclear warhead" to any part of the United States.


Pyongyang's nuclear tests - six times and counting

The ICBM is believed to be a step forward in the North's nuclear program. Despite pressure from the international community, Pyongyang has made no secret of its nuclear ambitions. Alongside its ritual ballistic missile tests, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests on at least six occasions, including one in September 2017.


US running out of patience?

Responding to the first ICBM test with a show of force, the US and South Korean troops on conducted "deep strike" precision missile drills using Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and the Republic of Korea's Hyunmoo Missile II. In April, the US sent its Carl Vinson aircraft carrier towards the Korean Peninsula, saying it was taking prudent measures against the North.


Testing the boundaries

Ignoring international condemnation, Pyongyang test-launched another rocket on July 28, 2017, just weeks after its first ICBM test. In both of the tests, North Korea used Hwasong-14 missile, but the second one reached a higher altitude and traveled a larger distance than the first one, according to the state media.


Whole of US within range?

Pyongyang conducted its third test November 29, using a newly developed Hwasong-15 missile. US, Japanese and South Korean officials said it rose to about 4,500 km (2,800 miles) and flew 960 kilometers (600 miles) over about 50 minutes before landing in Japan's exclusive economic zone off the country's coast.


One of the world's largest militaries

Apart from a developing missile and nuclear program, North Korea has a powerful army with 700,000 active troops and another 4.5 million in the reserves. It can call upon almost a quarter of its population to serve in the army at any given time. The North's bloated army is believed to outnumber its southern neighbor's by two-to-one.


Vast capabilities

According to the 2017 Global Firepower Index, the North has, as part of a far-reaching arsenal, 458 fighter aircraft, 5,025 combat tanks, 76 submarines, and 5,200,000 total military personnel. The picture above from 2013 shows leader Kim Jong Un ordering strategic rocket forces to be on standby to strike US and South Korean targets at any time.


Enemies all around

Alongside the United States, Pyongyang views its neighbors South Korea and Japan as its two other main enemies. North Korea has used US military exercises in the region as means of galvanizing its people, claiming that the exercises are dress rehearsals for an impending invasion.


Huge, colorful demonstrations of military might

Every year, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and citizens roll through the streets of the capital Pyongyang to take part in the North's military parades. Preparations for the rallies often begin months in advance, and the parades usually mark important anniversaries linked with the Communist Party or Kim Jong Un's family.

dm/kms (AP, AFP)