North Korea and the U.S. accused each other on Tuesday of posing a military threat to the other, with Pyongyang’s envoy declaring it would never put its nuclear arsenal up for negotiation.
The debate at the UN began when the U.S. envoy said President Donald Trump’s top priority was to protect the United States and its allies against the “growing threat” from North Korea.
To do so, he said, the country was ready to use “the full range of capabilities at our disposal”.
U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament that the “path to dialogue still remains an option” for Pyongyang, but that Washington was “undeterred in defending against the threat North Korea poses”.
Fears have grown over North Korea’s development of missiles and nuclear weapons since Pyongyang launched Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) in July.
Those fears worsened after Trump warned that North Korea would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States.
Trump’s remarks led North Korea to say it was considering plans to fire missiles towards the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
Trump responded by tweeting that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely”.
A few days later, North Korean media reported the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, had delayed any decision on whether to fire missiles towards Guam while he waited to see what the U.S. would do.
Experts warned Pyongyang could still go ahead with the missile launches.
“North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs pose grave threats to the entire world,” Wood told the Geneva forum.
“Its recent ICBM tests are another example of the dangerous reckless behavior of the North that is destabilizing the region and beyond,” he said.
He said North Korea had openly stated that its missiles are intended to strike cities in the United States and its allies South Korea and Japan.
“My president’s top priority remains protecting the homeland, U.S. territories and our allies against North Korean aggression,” Wood said.
“We remain prepared to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat from North Korea,” he told the forum.
North Korea diplomat Ju Yong Chol said that measures taken by his country to strengthen its nuclear deterrent and develop inter-continental rockets were “justifiable and a legitimate option”.
“As long as the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat remains unchallenged, the DPRK will never place its self-defensive nuclear deterrence on the negotiating table or step back an inch from the path it took to bolster the national nuclear force,” Ju said.
Regarding joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that began on Monday, he warned: “The ongoing military adventure would certainly add gasoline to the fire, driving the current tense situation to further deterioration.”
Delegations from roughly 20 countries spoke at the four-hour session, including Britain, France, Australia and South Korea.
All of them criticised North Korea’s weapons programnes.
“I would like to repeat the appeal to the DPRK to listen to the fact that there is no alternative to stopping the different provocations and to return to dialogue,” South Korean ambassador Kim Inchul said.
“We have never threatened the DPRK with any attacks and we have never promoted the use of force,” Kim said.