President Donald Trump has branded North Korea's leadership "depraved" as he told Americans during his first State of the Union address that Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear missiles could "very soon threaten our homeland"
Vowing a continued campaign of maximum pressure to keep such a threat from becoming reality, Mr Trump's tough rhetoric underscored persistent tensions despite recent talks between North and South Korea that led to Pyongyang's agreement to participate in next month's Winter Olympic games hosted by Seoul.
"We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies," he said.
North-South negotiations earlier this month have eased fears of war on the Korean peninsula that were in part stoked by an exchange of insults and threats between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Mr Trump and top advisers have publicly welcomed the talks but US officials have said privately that Pyongyang might be trying to drive a wedge between allies Washington and Seoul.
Attending the State of the Union address as Trump's guests were the parents of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died in June shortly after he was released by North Korea in a coma.
"Tonight, we pledge to honour Otto's memory with total American resolve," Mr Trump said. But he offered no new prescription or specifics on how he intended to rein in North Korea.
Mr Trump said that among the witnesses to the "ominous" nature of the North Korean government was Ji Seong-ho, a defector who escaped from North Korea after being run over by a train while trying to steal coal and suffering torture and starvation.
Joining Mr Trump's guests in the gallery, Mr Ji, who lost a hand and foot, now heads a group that rescues and resettles North Korean refugees.
The Trump administration has repeatedly stressed its preference for a diplomatic solution to the Korea tensions while saying all options are on the table.
Earlier on Tuesday, the vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea's nuclear program had made strides in recent months but the country has not yet demonstrated all the components of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), including a survivable re-entry vehicle that can deliver a nuclear weapon.
In November, North Korea said it had successfully tested a new type of ICBM that could reach all of the American mainland. US.-based experts said data from the test appeared to support that.
Mr Trump refrained from referring to Mr Kim as "Rocket Man," a disparaging nickname he has used before. But he insisted that "no regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea."
Mr Trump had recently held back on harsher language after having threatened last year to unleash “fire and fury" on North Korea.
Pyongyang, in turn, has threatened to target the US territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. Kim has shown no sign of willingness to give in to U.S. demands and negotiate away a weapons program he sees as vital to his survival.
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