PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea’s parliament convened Tuesday amid heightened tensions on the divided peninsula, with the United States and South Korea conducting their biggest-ever military exercises and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier heading to the area in a show of American strength.
North Korea vowed a tough response to any military moves that might follow the U.S. decision to send the carrier and its battle group to waters off the Korean Peninsula.
“We will hold the U.S. wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions,” a spokesman for its Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The statement followed an assertion by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that U.S. missile strikes against a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack carry a message for any nation operating outside of international norms. He didn’t specify North Korea, but the context was clear enough.
“If you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken,” Tillerson told ABC’s “This Week.”
Pyongyang is always extremely sensitive to the annual U.S.-South Korea war games, which it sees as an invasion rehearsal, and justifies its nuclear weapons as defensive in nature. It has significantly turned up the volume of its rhetoric that war could be on the horizon if it sees any signs of aggression from south of the Demilitarized Zone.
“This goes to prove that the U.S. reckless moves for invading the DPRK have reached a serious phase of its scenario,” the North’s statement said, referring to the country by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “If the U.S. dares opt for a military action, crying out for ‘pre-emptive attack’ … the DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said President Trump has been very clear that it’s “not tolerable” for North Korea to have nuclear-armed missiles.
“The last thing we want to see is a nuclear North Korea that threatens the coast of the United States, or, for that matter, any other country, or any other set of human beings,” Spicer said at the Tuesday news briefing.
Trump spoke last week with China’s President Xi Jinping about the “shared national interest” in stopping its close ally, North Korea, from having nuclear capabilities, Spicer said, adding that it would be helpful if China was more outspoken on the matter. “He would welcome President Xi weighing in on this a little bit more,” Spicer said.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump also said that he tried to persuade Xi to put pressure on North Korea in exchange for a good trade deal with the U.S.
“I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” Trump tweeted.
In a second tweet he wrote: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.”