The Pentagon has warned that it is prepared to give Donald Trump options to deal with North Korea if the country’s provocations continue.
“If North Korea does not stop their provocative actions, you know, we will make sure that we provide options to the President to deal with North Korea,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters.
Earlier that day, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho had told reporters that “the whole world should clearly remember it was the US who first declared war on our country”.
Mr Ri was responding to comments from Mr Trump, in which the President claimed North Korean leaders “won’t be around much longer” if they continued their threats. A senior administration official denied that the President was advocating regime change.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the Foreign Minister’s comments “absurd”.
“We’ve not declared war on North Korea. Frankly, the suggestion of that is absurd,” she said.
The war of words between the two countries has escalated since April, when Pyongyang tried and failed to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. The North Korean regime has since conducted several successful missile tests, and carried out its sixth-ever nuclear test earlier this month.
In his speech to the United Nations last week, Mr Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, claiming leader Kim Jong-un was “on a suicide mission”. In his own speech to the assembly, Mr Ri said it was Mr Trump who had a death wish.
“In case innocent lives of the US are harmed because of this suicide attack, Trump will be held totally responsible,” the Foreign Minister said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned against the escalating rhetoric on Monday, saying: “Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings.”
“The only solution for this is a political solution,” he added.
The Trump administration has so far pursued a path of diplomacy through the tensions, despite the President’s bombastic words.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has helped negotiate stringent sanctions against North Korea. The UN Security Council voted earlier this month to cap the country’s oil imports, ban their textile exports, and bar countries from giving work visas to North Korean citizens.
China and Russia – two of North Korea’s biggest trading partners – have so far agreed to the Security Council’s sanctions. But they have also pushed the US to find a non-military solution to the conflict.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said all sides should “not further irritate each other and add oil to the flames of the tense situation on the peninsula at present”.
The US adopted its own sanctions against North Korea last week. The sanctions ban international banks that facilitate transactions with North Korea from the American market, and punish those that do business with North Korea’s major industries.
Experts say the sanctions are stronger than those President Barack Obama imposed against Iran before successfully bringing them to the bargaining table.
Announcing the sanctions last Thursday, Mr Trump said: “North Korea’s nuclear weapons and nuclear development is a grave threat to peace and security in our world, and it is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal, rogue regime.”