President Donald Trump's increasingly aggressive rhetoric on Kim Jong-un's nuclear program has been perceived as a declaration of war by North Korea's foreign minister, who said Monday that the country is prepared to defend itself if Trump follows through with what appeared to be threats of a regime change via his Twitter account over the weekend.
"The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country," said Ri Yong-ho on Monday.
After Ri spoke at the United Nations on Saturday, Trump tweeted his latest threat regarding North Korea:
Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
The tweet matched the tone of Trump's own U.N. address, made last Tuesday, in which he said the U.S. "will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" if it "is forced to defend itself or its allies." It also followed a statement Trump made in August, apparently without any discussion with his cabinet members, that North Korea would face "fire and fury" if it continued testing its nuclear capability.
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"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 on Monday, adding, "the question of who won't be around much longer will be answered then."
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test earlier this month, its largest yet. It has also claimed to test both short-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) more than a dozen times this year, firing two over Japan in the past month. Ignoring calls for diplomacy made by numerous peace organizations, Trump and Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., have dismissed the possibility of holding peaceful negotiations with North Korea in order to de-escalate tensions and work with the Kim regime to manage its nuclear development, as the Obama administration did with Iran in 2015.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary James Mattis insisted after Trump's combative speech at the U.N. that Washington's approach to North Korea "is still a diplomatically-led effort," echoing his remark last month that, "we are never out of diplomatic solutions." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also made an attempt at damage control after Trump's speech, telling ABC, "Our diplomatic efforts continue unabated."
The administration's diplomatic response has mostly centered on slapping the isolated country with sanctions; Trump introduced the latest round last Thursday.
According to a survey taken last week by Public Policy Polling, 90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans favor direct talks with North Korea before taking military action.