Fears growing over US-N. Korea armed conflict
By Kang Ji-Hyun
North Korea’s threat to shoot down U.S. bombers in response to the flyby near its coast of two B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by six F-15C fighters is causing fears over the possibility of the United States and North Korea stumbling into an accidental military clash.
Accusing U.S. President Donald Trump of declaring war on the North by tweeting that the Kim Jong-un regime “won’t be around much longer,” North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said Monday that his country has the right to implement self-defense countermeasures including shooting down the aircraft.
Trump tweeted the message Saturday soon after Ri delivered an address to the United Nations General Assembly. Hours before Ri’s speech, the U.S. Air Force flew the bombers from Guam, and the fighters from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, further north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) than any other American warplanes flew in the 21st century.
“Last weekend, Trump claimed that our leadership wouldn’t be around much longer and declared war on our country,” Ri said in front of a hotel in New York before flying back to Pyongyang.
“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to take all self-defensive countermeasures, including the right to shoot down the United States strategic bombers at any time even when they are not yet inside the airspace of our country.”
During Saturday’s address, Ri also warned that missile attacks against the U.S. mainland would be inevitable as Trump has kept insulting the dignity of the Kim regime. Ri cited the U.S. president’s U.N. speech in which he referred to Kim as “rocket man” and threatened to “totally destroy” the North if the U.S. was forced to defend itself or its allies.
The White House denied Ri’s claim that President Trump had declared war on the North.
“We’ve not declared war on North Korea,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said during a briefing. “And frankly, the suggestion of that is absurd.”
Sanders added it is “never appropriate” to shoot down another country’s aircraft when it is over international waters, stressing that Washington will continue to seek the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula “through both the most maximum economic and diplomatic pressures as possible at this point.”
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said the U.S. armed forces “will take all options to make sure that we safeguard our allies and our partners and our homeland so if North Korea does not stop their provocative actions we’ll make sure we provide options to the president to deal with North Korea.”
The spokesman stressed that Washington has a deep arsenal of military options to provide President Trump so he can decide how he wants to deal with the North.
“We are postured and we are ready to fight tonight,” the spokesman added.
For their part, the South Korean military is paying keen attention to the possibility of Pyongyang carrying out military provocations.
They said the North could choose the founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party, which falls Oct. 10, to conduct such provocations, noting that the military is maintaining a firm defensive posture.
Ri told reporters in New York last week that the repressive state could conduct the most powerful detonation of a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific.
Meanwhile, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said Tuesday that the North did not take any immediate actions in response to the U.S. B-1Bs’ flight, noting it might have failed to detect the bombers, according to Rep. Lee Cheol-woo, who chairs the National Assembly Intelligence Committee.
The spy agency added that Pyongyang was seen repositioning its warplanes and strengthening its coastal defenses after the show of force by the United States.