North Korea reminded the US today that it has nuclear weapons and warned it will strike back if attacked, as a US destroyer continued to trail a North Korean cargo ship suspected of carrying illicit weapons.
The Kang Nam, previously involved in weapons shipments, is the first vessel monitored under new UN sanctions adopted after the North's nuclear test last month. It could become a test case for interception of North Korean ships at sea — something Pyongyang has said it would consider an act of war.
President Barack Obama said the US is ready to cope with "any contingencies" amid reports the North appears to be preparing for a long-range missile test planned sometime around 4 July, the Independence Day holiday. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered additional protections for Hawaii as a precaution.
The UN sanctions — punishment for an underground nuclear test North Korea conducted on 25 May — firm up an earlier arms embargo against North Korea and authorize ship searches in an attempt to thwart the regime's nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.
The Kang Nam appeared headed to Burma via Singapore, the South Korean news network YTN reported yesterday, citing an unidentified intelligence source in South Korea.
Burma's military government, which faces an arms embargo from the United States and the European Union, reportedly has bought weapons from the North in the past.
Today, North Korea's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper called it "nonsense" to say the country is a threat to the US The paper also warned it is prepared to strike back if attacked.
"As long as our country has become a proud nuclear power, the US should take a correct look at whom it is dealing with," its said in commentary. "It would be a grave mistake for the US to think it can remain unhurt if it ignites the fuse of war on the Korean peninsula."
The Rodong Sinmun also denounced Obama's recent pledge to defend and protect South Korea — even promising to keep Seoul "under the U.S. nuclear umbrella" — as an attempt to attack the North with atomic bombs.
North Korea calls its nuclear programme a deterrent against the US, which Pyongyang accuses of plotting an attack. The US, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, has said it has no such intentions and no nuclear weapons on the peninsula.
But Obama said the US is prepared for any North Korean provocation.
"This administration — and our military — is fully prepared for any contingencies," Obama said on Friday during an interview with CBS News' "The Early Show" to be broadcast Monday.
"I don't want to speculate on hypotheticals," Obama said. "But I want ... to give assurances to the American people that the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted in terms of what might happen."
Washington is considering sending former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to China to persuade Beijing to enforce the UN sanctions against the North, Seoul's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Monday, citing an unidentified high-level diplomatic source.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said it could not confirm the report.Reuse content