UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's tweet that leader Kim Jong Un "won't be around much longer" was "a declaration of war" against his country by the United States.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters that what he called Trump's "declaration of war" gives North Korea "every right" under the U.N. Charter to self-defense and to take countermeasures, "including the right to shoot down the United States strategic bombers even when they're not yet inside the airspace border of our country."
It was not the first time North Korea has spoken about a declaration of war between the two countries. In July 2016, Pyongyang said U.S. sanctions imposed on Kim were "a declaration of war."
Ri referred Monday to Trump's tweet Saturday that said: "Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!" Trump also used the derisive "Rocket Man" reference to Kim in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, but this time he added the word "little."
A senior Trump administration official said Monday that the U.S. policy is not regime change. The official was not authorized to comment publicly on the issue and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The foreign minister's brief statement to a throng of reporters outside his hotel before heading off in a motorcade, reportedly to return home, built on the escalating rhetoric between Kim and Trump.
"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," Trump had told world leaders. "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."
Kim responded with the first-ever direct statement from a North Korean leader against a U.S. president, lobbing a string of insults at Trump and calling him a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard," a word to describe an old person who is weak-minded.
Trump responded by tweeting that Kim is "obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people." Kim retorted that Trump would "pay dearly" for his threat to destroy North Korea and said his country will consider the "highest level of hard-line countermeasures in history."
Asked about countermeasures, Ri then told reporters in New York that "I think it could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific."
In his speech Saturday to the General Assembly, Ri said Trump's "rocket man" insult makes "our rocket's visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable all the more."
"None other than Trump himself is on a suicide mission," Ri had said. "In case innocent lives of the U.S. are lost because of this suicide attack, Trump will be held totally responsible."
On Monday, Ri escalated the threat.
He opened his remarks to reporters in Korean by saying that over the last few days, the U.N. and the international community clearly have wished "that the war of words between the DPRK and the United States will not turn into real action."
DPRK refers to the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"However, that weekend, Trump claimed that our leadership wouldn't be around much longer, and ... he declared the war on our country," Ri said.38 comments on this story
"Given the fact that this comes from someone who is currently holding the seat of (the) United States presidency, this is clearly a declaration of war," the foreign minister said.
He said all U.N. members and the world "should clearly remember that it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country."
Ri then said North Korea now has the right to retaliate against U.S. bombers.
He ended his brief remarks by saying: "The question of who won't be around much longer will be answered then."
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed.