North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong told The Associated Press that his country is ready to halt its nuclear tests if the United States suspends its annual military exercises with South Korea.
In defense of the country’s right to maintain a nuclear deterrent, Ri warned that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) won’t be slowed by international sanctions.
An online report quotes Ri Su Yong as repeating Pyongyang’s longstanding position that the U.S. drove his country to develop nuclear weapons as an act of self-defense. He also suggested that boycotting the annual military exercises with South Korea could open the door to talks and reduced tensions.
He spoke to a foreign press with the help of an interpreter on Saturday where he mocked those who are waiting for the country’s regime to collapse by telling them: Don’t hold your breath.
“If we continue on this path of confrontation, this will lead to very catastrophic results, not only for the two countries but for the whole entire world as well.
“It is really crucial for the United States government to withdraw its hostile policy against the DPRK and as an expression of this stop the military exercises, war exercises, in the Korean Peninsula. Then we will respond likewise.
Ri’s assertions to the Associated Press came just hours after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine in its latest show of defiance as the U.S.-South Korea exercises wind down.
He referred to the launch in the context of current tensions caused by the military exercises. “The escalation of this military exercise level has reached its top level. And I think it’s not bad – as the other side is going for the climax – why not us, too, to that level as well?”
The Foreign Minister also spoke with the country’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations:
“Stop the nuclear war exercises in the Korean Peninsula, then we should also cease our nuclear tests.
During the interview, the government official was seated under portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il, North Korea’s two previous leaders – the grandfather and father of current leader Kim Jong Un.
Ri added that if the exercises are halted “for some period, for some years, new opportunities may arise for the two countries and for the whole entire world as well.”
The current interviews and discussions with foreign press by the North Korean government official is very rare; the country is infamous for its hatred towards Western news agencies. The comments are expected to push Washington into halting its annual military drills with Seoul which is seen as a rehearsal for a possible invasion.
Such proposals has been made by the DPRK in the past but U.S. has insisted the North must give up its nuclear weapons program first before any negotiations.
It is extremely rare for top North Korean officials to give interviews to foreign media, and particularly with Western news organizations.
A rep from the U.S. State Department defended the military exercises as demonstrating the U.S. commitment to its alliance with the South and said they enhance the combat readiness, flexibility and capabilities of the alliance. This statement was a response to Ri’s remarks.
“We call again on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations,” said Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs.
The North Korean Foreign Minister isn’t moved by threats of sanction as he said: “Sanctions won’t sway the North.”
“If they believe they can actually frustrate us with sanctions, they are totally mistaken.
“The more pressure you put on to something, the more emotionally you react to stand up against it. And this is important for the American policymakers to be aware of.”
This year’s exercises are the biggest ever, involving about 300,000 troops. Washington and Seoul say they beefed up the maneuvers after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test, in January, which also brought a new round of tough sanctions by the U.N. down on Pyongyang’s head. The exercises are set to continue through the end of the month.
Pyongyang, meanwhile, has responded with a series of missile launches and statements in its media that the country has developed its long-range ballistic missile and nuclear warhead technologies to the point that they now present a credible deterrent and could even be used against targets on the U.S. mainland, though not all foreign analysts accept that claim.
In the interview, he stated that the United States has used its power to get other countries to join in pressure on North Korea.
“A country as small as the DPRK cannot actually be a threat to the U.S. or to the world.
“How great would it be if the world were to say to the United States and the American government not to conduct any more military exercises in the Korean Peninsula … But there is not a single country that says this to the U.S.
“These big countries alone or together are telling us that we should calm down.
“For us this is like a sentence, that we should accept our death and refuse our right to sovereignty.”
Ri said North Korea is not encouraged by the thawing of relations between Washington and Cuba or Iran.
“We’re happy for the Cuban people and the Iranian people that they have reached successes on their path to pursuing their own goals and interests,” he said. But he added that those cases “differ totally” from the U.S.-North Korea relationship.