North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho warned Saturday that it is “inevitable” that his country will launch a missile toward the mainland United States in revenge for the insults President Trump has directed at leader Kim Jong Un.
“None other than Trump himself is on a suicide mission,” Ri said in a speech before the U.N. General Assembly — turning the tables on Trump’s accusation that Kim is suicidal. The insults make “our rocket’s visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable all the more.’’
On Tuesday, Trump had used the same forum to mock Kim as “Rocket Man” and warn that the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if attacked.
The mudslinging continued in the same vein in Ri’s speech. He taunted Trump as “President Evil” and called him a “mentally deranged person full of megalomania … who has turned the White House into a noisy marketplace full of crackling sounds."
Earlier in the day, the Pentagon announced that American bomber and fighter jets flew along North Korea's eastern coastline in a predawn "show of force" that was closer to the rogue nation's border than any other mission this century.
Dana White, chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement Saturday that U.S. B-1 bomber and F-15 fighter jets launched from airfields in the region and flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea.
"This mission is a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat," White said. "North Korea’s weapons program is a grave threat to the Asia-Pacific region and the entire international community."
The Pentagon issued several photos of the sleek fighter and bomber jets streaking across the darkened sky toward the Korean Peninsula.
In his speech, which had been prepared in advance, Ri did not mention the flights, but he condemned tightened U.N. sanctions as “heinous and barbaric” and said they would not deter his country from developing nuclear weapons.
“We are finally only a few steps away from the final gate of completion of the state nuclear force,” Ri said.
Earlier in the week, Ri told reporters that North Korea could next conduct an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific — which would be a major escalation. All six of North Korea’s previous nuclear tests have been underground. No nation has conducted an atmospheric nuclear test since China in 1980.
Although the hyperbolic volley of insults between the U.S. and North Korea leaders has been at times comical — the stilted North Korean rhetoric is easy to ridicule — the exchange is setting nerves on edge.
Kim Jong Un this week personally took to North Korean television to deliver a denunciation of Trump, whom he called a “dotard.” Trump tweeted a fresh attack against Kim on Friday night, calling him a “madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.”
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, complained that Trump and Kim are behaving like “children in a kindergarten.”
“I’m nervous,’’ said Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA Korea analyst. “Kim Jong Un is known to be paranoid and thin-skinned.” She said Trump has laid down his challenge in a way that will make it difficult for the North Koreans to back down.
“I’m a hard-liner too when it comes to North Korea,” she added, “but you have to give them a way out. There is no path. This is a dangerous game to be playing.”
4:50 p.m.: This story was updated with additional information about the U.S. air maneuvers in the region.
This story was originally published at 3:30 p.m.