WASHINGTON (CNN) — North Korean state media on Friday Oct. 13) renewed a threat to launch missiles toward the US territory of Guam, warning that “reckless moves” by the US would compel Pyongyang to take action.
North Korea first said it was examining a plan to target the Pacific island in August after US President Donald Trump warned the isolated regime would “face fire and fury like the world has never seen” following a US intelligence assessment that North Korea had produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead.
“We have already warned several times that we will take counteractions for self-defense, including a salvo of missiles into waters near the US territory of Guam,” the KCNA report quoted Kim Kwang Hak, a researcher at the Institute for American Studies of the North Korean Foreign Ministry, as saying.
“The US military action hardens our determination that the US should be tamed with fire and lets us take our hand closer to the ‘trigger’ for taking the toughest countermeasure,” Kim added.
The latest warnings from Pyongyang follow weeks of rising tensions, which promise to escalate further when US and South Korea joint naval exercises begin Monday.
Joint military exercises are particularly infuriating to Pyongyang. The North Korean government views them as a dress rehearsal for an invasion — even as the US insists they are purely defensive in nature.
The KCNA report listed a string of perceived US provocations — including a litany of bombastic threats from President Trump, recent deployments of a US guided-missile submarine and aircraft carrier to the region, and a new round of “high intensity” US and South Korea joint naval drills.
The article ended with a familiar warning: that the US would be solely responsible for “pushing the situation on the peninsula to the point of explosion.”
It would be easy to dismiss this as more bluster from Pyongyang. But North Korea’s latest message indicates the regime may be ready to carry out what would be its most provocative missile test to date — firing four missiles over Japan and landing around 30 to 40 kilometers (18 to 25 miles) off the coast of the tiny island.
North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has never ruled out the plan to fire missiles into the waters off Guam. During an August 14 inspection of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army, Kim said he would watch for continued “reckless” behavior by the US before making a decision.
Tensions have only escalated since.
In his remarks at the UN last month, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and adopted a demeaning nickname for the North Korean leader — referring to him as “Rocket Man” and subsequently “Little Rocket Man.”
Nothing enrages Pyongyang more than perceived affronts to their “Supreme Dignity” — a reference to leader Kim Jong Un — who is revered above all else in the authoritarian nation. North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho responded by calling Trump “President Evil” and “mentally deranged.”
Ri told Russian state news agency TASS this week Trump has “lit the wick of war” against North Korea. He also ruled out the possibility of diplomacy between the US and North Korea.
“The current situation — when the US resorts to maximum pressure and sanctions, to outrageous military threats against the DPRK — is not at all an atmosphere to negotiate,” Ri said, according to TASS.
Ri’s words should be taken seriously. He was recently promoted to a full voting member of North Korea’s politburo; its highest-level decision-making body. His words are coming directly from the top echelons of North Korean leadership.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly warned Thursday that Americans should worry about North Korea having the ability to reach the United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile.
He told reporters that if the threat grows “beyond where it is today, well, let’s hope that diplomacy works” — just the latest in a series of cryptic messages from the Trump administration.
Last week, Trump described a meeting of top military leaders as “the calm before the storm” — later acknowledging the comment was a reference to North Korea.
Russian lawmaker: New test?
On a recent visit to Pyongyang, Russian lawmaker Anton Morozov told RIA news agency that Pyongyang is preparing to test a new long-range missile.
“They even gave us mathematical calculations that they believe prove that their missile can hit the west coast of the United States,” Morozov said, according to RIA.
“As far as we understand, they intend to launch one more long-range missile in the near future. And in general, their mood is rather belligerent,” he said.
Over the last two years, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests and launched missiles in response to joint drills, which have led to unprecedented UN Security Council sanctions, including a new round adopted unanimously last month.
The sanctions have not seemed to deter Pyongyang. In the last three months, North Korea conducted its most powerful nuclear test ever and launched two missiles over northern Japan.
By all indications, another North Korean provocation is inevitable — perhaps imminent.