North Korea steps up nuclear rhetoric

North Korea has stepped up its fiery rhetoric over its threat to use nuclear weapons, days after a US soldier was arrested for crossing the border from South Korea.

The country’s defense minister, Kang Sun Nam, said he would approve the use of nuclear weapons “in case [a] a nuclear attack is launched against him or it is judged that the use of nuclear weapons against him is imminent,” the official KCNA news agency reported on Thursday.

The warning came after Pvt, 23. 2nd Class Travis King crossed the border during a tour of the Joint Security Area, a UN-administered area between North and South Korea on Tuesday.

Pvt.  2nd Class Travis King.
Travis King’s fate remains unclear. via Carl Gates

North Korea has so far remained mum on the status of king.

The isolated communist nation has long threatened to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles in self-defense against what it calls active plans by the West to launch an attack on it.

U.S. and South Korean military leaders met on Tuesday to discuss their joint response to a North Korean attack, which coincided with the arrival of a U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarine in South Korea for the first time since the 1980s.

Pyongyang said the meeting was a clear provocation and a precursor to a Western attack, whose plans have entered “the most critical phase”, making war on the Korean Peninsula “a dangerous reality”.

“In particular, the hostile forces have posed the most direct and direct nuclear threat to the DPRK by bringing an Ohio-class strategic nuclear submarine to the Pusan ​​port operating base, which means that strategic nuclear weapons have been deployed on the Korean Peninsula for the first time after about 40 years,” Kang’s statement said.

North Korea regularly launches ballistic missile tests, with the most recent taking place last week when the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, promised to boost its nuclear deterrent capabilities.

King’s fate, meanwhile, remains unclear.

Defense Department spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Wednesday that the United States had been in contact with Sweden, through which Washington has embassy-level relations with North Korea, but had not received a response.

Former defectors such as Charles Jenkins, a then 24-year-old Army sergeant who crossed the border in 1965, were treated as propaganda assets and remained in North Korea for years before being sent back to the United States.

Jenkins was avoiding being sent to fight in Vietnam, while there are no signs of similar objections from King, who had been in legal trouble in South Korea.

It emerged on Thursday that he had spent 48 days in a prison in Cheonan, a city about 80 km south of the South Korean capital, Seoul, after failing to pay a $4,000 fine on charges of damaging public property.

According to court documents, King failed to cooperate when officers apprehended him in October after causing hundreds of dollars in damage to a police cruiser while he shouted profanity about Koreans and the Korean military.

The last American to become lost in North Korea, Bruce Byron Lowrance, has been freed a month after entering the country illegally via China in 2018.

It came after President Donald Trump held a joint summit with Kim Jong Un and promised to end the country’s nuclear escalation.

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