The war of words between Pyongyang and Washington continues to ratchet up with no sign of abating.
In the latest salvo fired by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho accused President Donald Trump of lighting the “fuse of war” against Pyongyang. Ri further suggested that any attempt to enforce sanctions against North Korea would be considered an act of war.
“By his bellicose and insane statement in the UN arena, Trump, it can be said, lit the fuse of war against us,” Ri told the Russian TASS News agency.
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Ri’s statement reiterated his comments to reporters last month in New York, where he said that “it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country.” But in his interview with the Russians, Ri went much further, he declared that North Korea will never negotiate to give up its nuclear arsenal. “Our principled position is that we will never agree to any negotiations during which our nuclear weapons will become the subject of talks,” Ri said.
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Indeed, if Ri is speaking truthfully, it seems that the North Koreans are close enough to their goal of building an operational nuclear-tipped ICBM that—at this point—they would not be willing to negotiate any sort of test freeze. A testing freeze—rather than a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula—is seen by most arms control experts as the most realistic outcome of any sort of negotiated settlement between the United States and the North Koreans.
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“We have nearly achieved the final point on the way to our ultimate goal, to achieving a real balance of force with the United States,” Ri said. “Our nuclear weapons will never be a subject matter of negotiations as long as the United States’ policy of pressure on the DPRK has not been uprooted once and for all.”
Indeed, Ri told the Russians that North Korea considers the additional sanctions that are being placed on it to be an act of war. “The government of our republic has stated numerous times that any attempt to squeeze our throat and stifle us, which are made under the pretext of fulfilling the so-called ‘sanctions resolution,’ are tantamount to an act of aggression and war and that in response we won’t give up the use of our last resorts,” Ri told TASS.
Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was never a realistic option. The North Koreans have no incentive to give up their one trump card that guarantees the survival of the Kim regime. The most rational course of action for the United States is to adopt a deterrence posture as this nation did after the Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons in August 1949.
However, the Trump Administration seems determined to look at potential military options to use against North Korea. Yesterday, on October 10, Trump met with former Nixon Administration Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. And earlier today, October 11, Trump met with his national security team to receive a briefing from secretary of defense Jim Mattis and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford. “The briefing and discussion focused on a range of options to respond to any form of North Korean aggression or, if necessary, to prevent North Korea from threatening the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons,” reads a statement from the White House.
Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force bombers continue their drills off the North Korean coast pushing up the ante.
A Russian language version of the interview with Ri Yong-ho can found here, while an English version can be found here. Text is very similar, but there are some subtle differences due to the imprecise nature of translating from Russian to English (for example—the word фитиль can be translated as either “wick” or “fuse” while воинственным could mean either “bellicose” or “belligerent”).
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.