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North Korea says actions may include Pacific Hydrogen bomb test
[SEOUL] North Korea struck back at US President Donald Trump's threats to destroy it, with Kim Jong Un warning of the "highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history" and his foreign minister suggesting that could include testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho spoke to reporters on Thursday in New York, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly. He said in remarks broadcast on South Korean TV that the countermeasures flagged by Kim might refer to a "strongest-ever" ground-level test of a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific.
Still, he added "we have no idea what the measures will be" and that it was for Kim to decide, according to Yonhap News.
The yen rose the most in two weeks as the fresh rhetoric from North Korea spurred demand for haven assets. Treasury yields and regional stocks fell after Yonhap reported Mr Ri's remarks.
Mr Trump and Kim are engaged in an increasingly hostile war of words over North Korea's weapons programme, which has seen it launch intercontinental ballistic missiles and test its sixth - and most powerful - nuclear weapon in recent weeks.
Mr Trump this week threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if it provokes the US or allies, and ordered new sanctions on individuals, companies and banks doing business with Pyongyang.
Mr Ri's address to the UN will be pushed back one day to Saturday, Yonhap reported, citing unidentified people. The reason for the delay is unclear, it said.
Kim responded to Mr Trump's remarks at the UN meeting in a statement on state media, calling the president "mentally deranged".
"Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history," Kim said in the statement to the Korean Central News Agency, using the initials for his country's formal name.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said that other than routine public addresses, this is the first such direct statement by a North Korean leader it has found.
Following Kim's statement and Mr Ri's remarks, the ministry urged North Korea to stop its hostile policy against other nations. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo that the statement was provocative and unacceptable, adding he was aware of reports on Mr Ri without commenting further.
North Korea has claimed progress in its ability to miniaturise a nuclear bomb to fit a warhead onto a missile. Still, it would be unlikely for North Korea to carry out a threat to test a nuclear weapon in the Pacific, according to William McKinney, a visiting scholar at the US-Korea Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
"I think it is more that Ri's bluster is designed to put him in good standing with his boss Kim Jong Un - they had to figure out a way to respond to the 'Rocket Man' comment," Mr McKinney said.
"No one has done an above-ground test in decades," he said.
"It they did it would be condemned by everyone - the Chinese and the Russians would be just as upset at the United States."
Mr McKinney, a retired Army colonel who spent more than 40 years working on US-Korea military planning, said he was more concerned that North Korea may test-fire a missile toward Guam, a US territory in the Pacific.
"That would highlight the fact that the existential threat to the US , is real," he said.
"The American military establishment would have to take measures to defend its territory and use the full force of our ballistic missile defense capability as well as other strategies to respond to such a threat."
Mr Ri's comments appeared directed at a ground-level test. Still, the concept of shooting a missile tipped with a hydrogen bomb into the Pacific doesn't sound far-fetched if North Korea has succeeded in miniaturising warheads, said Tahk Min Jea, who teaches rocket science at South Korea's Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology.
"If not possible now, it would be certainly be possible within months or a year," Mr Tahk said.
"North Korea has so far proven most of its claims."