North Korea has suggested that it will continue its nuclear weapons tests in response to what it calls US aggression. Japan has also sent out a destroyer to escort US warships as Tokyo seeks to boost its military role.
Pyongyang warned on Monday that it would conduct a nuclear test at any time determined by its leadership, in the latest comments to fuel already heightened tensions in the region.
Both North Korea and Washington have been trading off shows of force over the past few weeks. There are signs that North Korea might be preparing either its sixth nuclear test or a long-range missile launch, while the White House refuses to rule out military action in response.
A spokesman for the North’s Foreign Ministry said the government was “fully ready to respond to any option taken by the US,” in a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency.
North Korea’s “measures for bolstering the nuclear force to the maximum will be taken in a consecutive and successive way at any moment and any place decided by its supreme leadership,” the spokesman said, apparently referring to a new nuclear test.
US President Donald Trump has said a “major, major conflict” with North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un is possible over its nuclear and ballistic programs.
Last week, China warned that the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control. South Korea also regularly warns that the North can carry out a test whenever it chooses to do so.
In an interview with CBS television network’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Trump said that if North Korea carried out another nuclear test, “I would not be happy.”
When asked if “not happy” meant “military action,” Trump replied: “I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see.”
Japan dispatches destroyer
North Korea raises the tone of its weapons test warnings every spring when the United States and South Korea carry out joint military exercises that the North views as invasion rehearsals.
This year, however, fears of conflict have been fueled by a back-and-forth of threats from the Trump administration and Pyongyang.
Japan dispatched a helicopter carrier, Izumo, from a port south of Tokyo on Monday, which was to join a US supply vessel off Chiba prefecture, according to media reports.
It is the first operation of its kind since Japan passed controversial legislation allowing the military to have a greater role overseas. Japanese officials said the US ship is expected to refuel other American warships in the region, including the USS Carl Vinson – a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier sent by the US as a show of force.