AMERICAN secretary of state John Kerry dismissed as “unacceptable by any standard” weeks of warnings of impending nuclear war by North Korea, saying Washington would never accept the reclusive state becoming a nuclear power.
Mr Kerry, addressing reporters yesterday after talks with South Korean president Park Geun-hye and leaders of the 28,000-strong US military contingent in the country, also said the US would defend its allies in the region if necessary.
“The rhetoric we are hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable by any standard,” Mr Kerry said. “We are all united in the fact that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power.”
North Korea has issued weeks of warnings to the US and South Korea, including of waging thermonuclear war, after the imposition of UN sanctions in response to its third nuclear arms test in February.
Mr Kerry’s visit coincides with preparations for the anniversary on Monday of North Korean state founder Kim Il-sung’s birthday, a possible pretext for a show of military strength.
Speculation has mounted that Pyongyang may launch a medium-range missile after reports in South Korea and the US that missiles had been moved into suitable locations.
Mr Kerry said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would be making a “huge mistake” if he proceeded with a launch. He also said that China, the North’s sole diplomatic and financial ally, has the ability to make a difference on influencing North Korea’s policies.
Hours before his arrival, a US government agency claimed North Korea had a nuclear weapon it can mount on a missile, adding an ominous dimension to discussions in Seoul.
However, the assessment by the Pentagon’s defence intelligence agency was swiftly dismissed by several US officials and South Korea.
Last night, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Pyongyang has not demonstrated the capability to launch such a nuclear armed missile. He said it “is not simple” to take that step.
However, another official said Washington’s greatest concern was the possibility of unexpected developments linked to 30-year-old Kim Jong-un.
“Kim Jong-un’s youth and inexperience make him very vulnerable to miscalculation. Our greatest concern is a miscalculation and where that may lead,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We have seen no indications of troop movements, or troops massing on the border, or exercises or anything like that that would back up any of the rhetoric that is going on.”
Ms Park, meeting officials from her ruling Saenuri Party before her talks with Mr Kerry, struck a conciliatory note by suggesting Seoul should at least listen to what North Korea had to say.
“We have a lot of issues, including the Kaesong industrial zone,” local media quoted her as saying. “So should we not meet with them and ask: Just what are you trying to do?’”
The president was referring to North Korea’s closure this week of the jointly run Kaesong industrial park, with the loss of 53,000 jobs.
In Pyongyang, Rodong Sinmun, the voice of the ruling Workers’ Party, said North Korea would never abandon its nuclear weapons programme, made necessary by the “invariable ambition of the US to militarily invade” North Korea.
Gun and orchards for Kim Il Sung birthday bash
As the world watches to see what North Korea’s next move will be in a high-stakes game of brinksmanship with the US, residents of its capital were yesterday preparing for the birthday of national founder Kim Il Sung.
Even at such a seemingly innocuous setting as a Pyongyang flower show in Kim’s honour, North Korea’s warning that it is prepared to strike back if pushed too far is on prominent display.
This year’s exhibition of Kimilsungia flowers – which North Koreans claim their scientists have bred into the most beautiful orchids in the world – is built around mock-ups of missiles, slogans hailing the military and reminders of the threats that North Koreans feel are all around them.
“It is because we have a nuclear deterrent that we are able to live our lives and have a beautiful flower exhibition like this,” said Kim Sung Sim, a Pyongyang greenhouse worker who contributed to the display.