GENEVA (Reuters) - North Korea said on Tuesday it had a “powerful and reliable” nuclear deterrent to thwart any attack and accused the United States of deploying military assets nearby under the pretext of ensuring security at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Han Tae Song, North Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, called on the United States to permanently halt its joint military drills with South Korea, suspended ahead of the Games that open on Feb. 9 amid an easing of tensions.
Han said contrary to the trend towards “detente”, U.S. forces were engaging in a “precarious military manoeuvre” by bringing their strategic assets near the divided Korean peninsula ahead of the competition.
“This is a dangerous act of throwing a wet blanket over the current positive atmosphere of inter-Korean relations, which could drive the situation again into an extreme phase of confrontation,” Han told the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday a thaw in relations between the two Koreas ahead of the Winter Olympics presented a “precious chance” for the United States and North Korea to discuss the North’s weapons programmes.
North Korea is developing missile and nuclear technology amid regular threats to destroy the United States and Japan and in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Japan’s envoy Nobushige Takamizawa said North Korea’s nuclear and missile deployment constituted “a grave and imminent threat to the international community” and pressure must be increased on Pyongyang.
Han said nuclear tests last year had allowed his country to “perfect a national nuclear force” in a safe and transparent manner.
“Thus the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) at last came to possess a powerful and reliable war deterrent, which no force and nothing can reverse,” he told the Geneva forum.
“I am proudly saying that DPRK’s nuclear force is capable of frustrating and countering any nuclear threats from the U.S. and it constitutes a powerful deterrent that prevents the U.S. from starting an adventurous war.”
Han said as a “responsible nuclear power” North Korea could not resort to using the weapons unless hostile forces violate its sovereignty or interests.
U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said: “The United States will not recognise North Korea as a nuclear weapon state.
“If the North wishes to return and be in the good graces of the international community, it knows what it has to do, it has to take steps towards denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.”
“The international pressure on North Korea is profound, it is intense and it will continue,” he added.
Wood, asked whether the inter-Korean dialogue was due to pressure on Pyongyang, later told reporters: “Absolutely, I think it very clear that the pressure the international community has put upon North Korea has got it to take a much softer tone with regard to the Republic of Korea and its desire now to participate in the upcoming Olympics.”
additional reporting by Cecile Mantovani; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Janet Lawrence