World 'on the brink of thermo-nuclear war', as North Korea mulls test that could goad Trump

Neil Connor
- Pleiades CNES/Airbus DS/38 North/Spot Image

North Korea has warned that the world is on the brink of “thermo-nuclear war” as fears rise that Pyongyang is planning a test of military hardware that could provoke a response from President Donald Trump.

Tensions over the North’s nuclear ambitions escalated further on Friday after reports in the US that Washington was ready to launch a pre-emptive strike, while China called for all sides to pull back from an “irreversible and unmanageable stage”.

Evidence of increased activity in recent weeks at the North's nuclear test sites has sparked fears that the country may be about to conduct its sixth nuclear test since 2006 at the weekend.

There are fears that North Korea will carry out a nuclear test this weekend as it pays tribute to state founder Kim Il-Sung Credit: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Tension between Washington and Pyongyang has risen in recent days with a US navy strike group being ordered into the western Pacific Ocean.

The redeployment of the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson strike group, officially described as a response to “earlier provocations”, was seen as sending a signal to North Korea.

Mr Trump described the force as an “armada” and said that submarines were being sent which were “far more powerful than the aircraft carrier.”

There has been evidence of increased activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea Credit: Airbus Defence and Space/38 North

Alluding to the flotilla, a statement from a North Korean governmental body said: “The US introduces into the Korean peninsula, the world's biggest hotspot, huge nuclear strategic assets, seriously threatening peace and security of the peninsula and pushing the situation there to the brink of a war.

"This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermo-nuclear war may break out any moment," the Foreign Ministry's Institute for Disarmament and Peace added.

Meanwhile, a senior North Korean official said Mr Trump's tweets were adding fuel to a "vicious cycle" of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Han Song-ryol, North Korea's vice foreign minister, told Associated Press: “Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words."

The official did not rule out the possibility of a test in the near future, saying: "That is something that our headquarters decides.”

Mr Han also said that Pyongyang would not "keep its arms crossed" in the face of a pre-emptive strike by the US.

Rex Tillerson says military action against North Korea is on the table

China, North Korea’s sole ally, reiterated its call for a peaceful solution to the tensions on Friday.

Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, told reporters in Beijing: “We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage.

"Force cannot solve the problem, dialogue can be the only channel to resolve the problem."

According to NBC, the US has deployed two destroyers armed with Tomahawk missiles to the region. One is reportedly only 300 miles from the North Korean nuclear test site.

Trump’s ‘armada’ sails on Korea

The network also reported that the US has two heavy bombers in the area capable of attacking North Korea if needed. It is not the first time that the US navy has been deployed in the area.

A senior Trump administration official described the NBC report as "flat wrong", Reuters reported. Another US official also dismissed the report, calling it "speculative at best".

Meanwhile, The Washington Post's Tokyo bureau chief Anna Fifield said that, according to her sources, the strike would be an option "as a retaliatory measure, not a pre-emptive one."

"Retaliation not guaranteed," she added.

Observers predict that the North is most likely to carry out a nuclear test on Saturday, the 105th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-Sung.

The threat of another US show of strength emerged as Washington confirmed that the US had dropped the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb in its history on an Islamic State tunnel in eastern Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has declined to comment on the NBC report, saying it does not discuss future operations "nor publicly speculates on possible scenarios."

"Commanders are always considering a full range of options to protect against any contingencies," said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White.

"Our commitment to the defence of our allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of potential threats, remains steadfast."

North Korea says that the US's positioning of nuclear assets near its peninsula is 'seriously threatening peace and security' Credit: Damir Sagolj /Reuters

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said that Mr Trump's "sabre-rattling on North Korea" called for congressional scrutiny.

"Speaker Paul Ryan must call Congress back into session for classified briefings and debate. Congress must do its duty and honour our responsibility to the constitution," she said.

At the same time, the US has launched a diplomatic offensive, with the North Korean threat high on the agenda in talks between Mr Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

Both leaders are reported to have agreed that it was unacceptable for North Korea to be “nuclear capable”.

There are fears over how Pyongyang would react if the US did launch a strike, given the volatile nature of the regime.

Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has voiced his concern that North Korea may already have the capability to launch missiles equipped with sarin nerve agent towards Japan.

North Korea's nuclear history: key moments

 

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