North Korea on Thursday threatened possible nuclear retaliation over the U.S. military docking one of its nuclear submarines in South Korea days earlier.
“The military security situation in the area of the Korean peninsula, which has undergone a fundamental change due to the reckless military moves of the U.S. and its followers, more clearly indicates what mission the nuclear weapons of the [North Korea] should carry out,” Kang Sun Nam, North Korea’s defense minister, said in a statement.
“I remind the U.S. military of the fact that the ever-increasing visibility of the deployment of the strategic nuclear submarine and other strategic assets may fall under the conditions of the use of nuclear weapons specified in the [North Korean] law on the nuclear force policy,” he added. “The U.S. military side should realize that its nuclear assets have entered extremely dangerous waters.”
The USS Kentucky arrived Tuesday afternoon at the Port of Busan in the first visit by a U.S. nuclear submarine to South Korea since the 1980s.
The moment is part of commitments made in April between Washington and Seoul, with President Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol establishing the Nuclear Consultative Group. The group is meant to keep any possible attack from North Korea at bay.
But the docking has drawn Pyongyang’s ire, with the isolated country on Wednesday launching two short-range missiles into its eastern sea.
North Korea also accused Washington of meeting with South Korea to discuss plans to use nuclear weapons against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name for the North Korean government.
Asked about the statement later Thursday, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh called the rhetoric unhelpful and “incredibly dangerous.”
“I certainly don’t think rhetoric like that is helpful,” she told reporters, adding that the port visit is “consistent when it comes to strategic deterrence and it reflects our ironclad commitment to the region.”
“We’re not there to instigate or to … poke the bear. This is a further deepening of our cooperation with South Korea” and something that was announced earlier this year, she added.
The new tensions with Pyongyang come as Washington attempts to negotiate the release of an American soldier who “willfully” crossed the North Korean border from South Korea.
The soldier, Pvt. 2nd Class Travis King, had been released from a South Korean prison and was facing additional disciplinary measures back stateside when he dashed across the border and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Biden administration officials say they don’t know where King is in the country as North Korea has not responded to any outreach from the United States.
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