North Korea threatens nuclear war ahead of Trump meeting with U.N. Security Council

CBS/Randy Schmidt

UNITED NATIONS – North Korea declared in a series of statements Saturday that “U.S. muscle-flexing can never browbeat DPRK,” threatening “a nuclear war” against the U.S. if it is attacked.

“The DPRK will react to a total war with an all-out war, a nuclear war with nuclear strikes of its own and surely win a victory in the death-defying struggle against the U.S. imperialists,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman wrote in one of three missives, echoing the message delivered by a top official at a massive military parade in Pyongyang on April 15.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman accused Trump administration officials of “spouting a load of rubbish” and “seeking to bring nuclear aircraft carrier strike groups one after another to the waters off the Korean Peninsula,” an apparent reference to the impending arrival of the USS Carl Vinson carrier group to the region.

The recent escalation in tension will be front in center in Washington on Monday. Diplomatic sources tell CBS News that U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley will escort Security Council members to Washington for a series of meetings with members of Congress before heading to the White House for a photo-op and lunch with President Trump. The high-profile visit will give U.N. diplomats an unusually high level of access to the president.

North Korea’s most recent missile test failed on the anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s late founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. The missile exploded immediately after liftoff, U.S. officials said. 

However, the regime has not dialed back its trademark brand of fiery diplomatic rhetoric in the wake of the failure.

“The DPRK is a nuclear power capable of countering any option and means of the U.S. and will not avoid any options made by it,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman’s statement Saturday read. “The world will clearly witness this time the fact that gone are the days never to return when the U.S. forced its will upon other countries.”

The spokesman called the North a “peace-loving socialist state” and is “setting great store by peace.” But North Korea “neither fears war nor wants to avoid it,” with the spokesman claiming the country’s nuclear program is defensive in nature.

The second memo sent to reporters Saturday was a commentary titled “Are You Good at Dancing to the Tune of Others,” taking aim at China -- although not by name -- over its support of economic sanctions. The third statement is directed at Australia, warning the country it “better think twice” about the “rubbish” statements of its foreign minister.  

The new threat comes in response to shows of force by the U.S. and its ally South Korea. Vice President Mike Pence declared “the era of strategic patience is over” on a recent trip to South Korea, where tens of thousands of U.S. troops are stationed. Haley told reporters on Tuesday that “we are not trying to pick a fight, so don’t try and give us one.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that the Trump administration is reviewing whether to add North Korea to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. 

On Thursday, the Security Council issued a strongly worded condemnation of North Korea over its latest missile test. The statement, negotiated by the U.S., included a call for “dialogue” with Pyongyang at the request of Russia. The non-binding statement was significant due in part to the support of China, North Korea’s closest ally. 

The council said North Korea’s illegal missile and nuclear activities “are greatly increasing tension in the region and beyond” and expressed “utmost concern” at its “highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance” of six U.N. sanctions resolutions.

The U.N.’s most powerful body demanded an immediate end to the North’s nuclear and missile tests and threatened to take “further significant measures” implying the imposition of new sanctions. 

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.