A senior North Korean official has accused the US of turning the Korean peninsula into “the world’s biggest hotspot” and creating “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment”.
North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador, Kim In-ryong, described US-South Korean military exercises as the largest ever “aggressive war drill” and said his country was “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US”.
Kim’s warning came as the US vice-president, Mike Pence, assured Japan that Washington would work closely with its allies in the region to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis and denuclearise the Korean peninsula.
“We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan,” Pence said during talks in Tokyo with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on Tuesday. “We are with you 100%.”
Pence and Abe repeated calls for China to play a bigger role in reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
“While all options are on the table,” Pence said, “President Trump is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region, and with China.”
He added: “We seek peace always as a country, as does Japan, but as you know and the United States knows, peace comes through strength and we will stand strongly with Japan and strongly with our allies for a peace and security in this region.”
Along with South Korea, Japan is particularly vulnerable to a North Korean attack as it is within range of the regime’s conventional weapons.
Her remarks are likely to cause anger in South Korea, where memories of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial occupation of the peninsula continue to cloud bilateral ties.
North Korea’s deputy foreign minister, Han Song-Ryol, told the BBC that Pyongyang would continue to test missiles “on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis”. All-out war would ensue if the US took military action, he said.
The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, said he believed the US was seeking to ease tensions through multi-party talks, despite its repeated insistence that military action remains an option. “We know the situation is tense,” Wang said. “The more tense things are, the more calm we need to be to find the opportunities and possibilities for dialogue.”
The statements from the North Korean officials came as Trump told the government in Pyongyang that it has “gotta behave” and Pence said the “era of strategic patience is over”.
On Monday Pence visited the tense demilitarised zone (DMZ) dividing North and South Korea at the start of a 10-day trip to Asia to underscore US commitment to the region.
As the vice-president was briefed near the demarcation line in South Korea on Monday, two North Korean soldiers watched from a short distance away, one taking photographs of the American visitor.
Pence told reporters Trump was hopeful China would use its “extraordinary levers” to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its weapons programme. But the vice-president expressed impatience with the unwillingness of North Korea to rid itself of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Pointing to the quarter-century since the US first confronted North Korea over its attempts to build nuclear weapons, he said a period of patience had followed.
“But the era of strategic patience is over,” Pence said. “President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons – and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”
Trump appeared to reinforce the message at the White House, replying “gotta behave” when a CNN reporter asked what message he had for the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
In Moscow, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters on Monday that he hoped there would be “no unilateral actions like those we saw recently in Syria and that the US will follow the line that President Trump repeatedly voiced during the election campaign”.
Meanwhile, China made a plea for a return to negotiations. The foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said tensions needed to be eased on the Korean peninsula to bring the escalating dispute there to a peaceful resolution. Lu said Beijing wanted to resume the multi-party negotiations that ended in stalemate in 2009 and suggested that US plans to deploy a missile defence system in South Korea were damaging its relations with China.
Last week, Trump said he would not declare China a currency manipulator – pulling back from a campaign promise – as he looked for help from Beijing, North Korea’s dominant trade partner.
The difficulty in enforcing multilateral sanctions against North Korea was underlined at the weekend, when the regime used Chinese-made trucks to display missiles at a huge military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
Photographs released by North Korean state media show it displayed six Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) for the first time, towed behind trucks painted in North Korean navy camouflage.
The logo of Chinese firm Sinotruk can be seen on the vehicles.
UN sanctions passed in 2006 apply to exports of military hardware to North Korea, but shipments of equipment that have dual military and civilian use, such as trucks, are harder to control.
By Justin McCurry