North Korea had more harsh words for the U.S. on Wednesday, strongly condemning U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises and criticizing President Donald Trump’s “weird” and “ego-driven” social media posts just hours after Trump claimed the rogue nation’s leader is “starting to respect us.”
Washington and Pyongyang have traded heated rhetoric and dueling threats in recent months, and Wednesday’s verbal volley published by the state-run KCNA news agency was, in some ways, a predictable response to the joint US-South Korean military exercises from a North Korean regime that views such activities as practice for an eventual invasion.
“This drill is too radical and dangerous to wrap this precarious action as ‘yearly’ and ‘defensive,'” KCNA’s report reads.
“The U.S. should not forget that their opponent is armed with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles,” it said, adding that the U.S. should “wake up from their old way of thinking that their land is safe and the death is an affair of others.”
While the U.S. and South Korea say the exercises are defensive in nature, North Korea warned Wednesday that “we won’t just sit and watch the behaviors of the foolish people whose blood is burning with revenge.”
The latest round of verbal jousting also included a personal jab at Trump’s Twitter habits.
North Korea said that Trump regularly posts “weird articles of his ego-driven thoughts in his twitter” and “spouts rubbish to make his assistants have a hard time,” the KCNA publication reads.
The KCNA article also said that South Korea’s defense minister is a U.S. puppet and “a running dog of the U.S.” who is “pinning hope on that mad guy,” referring to Trump.
Trump has also “spouted rubbish that if a war breaks out, it would be on the Korean peninsula, and if thousands of people die, they would be only Koreans and Americans may sleep a sound sleep,” the KCNA publication said.
While this type of rhetoric is consistent with past statements from Pyongyang, it is notable that it comes just hours after Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson alluded to signs of progress toward diplomatically de-escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Likely referring to his previous threats of “fire and fury” if North Korea continued its provocative behavior, Trump initially told the crowd at his Tuesday rally in Arizona that “what I said, that’s not strong enough.”
However, Trump’s tone quickly shifted as he said, “But, Kim Jong Un, I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much. Respect that fact.”
“And maybe, probably not, but maybe something positive can come about,” Trump added.
Tillerson also signaled that the U.S. is open to dialogue with North Korea on Tuesday despite continued verbal assaults from Pyongyang in the days leading up to the annual U.S. military drills with South Korea this week.
“I think it is worth noting, we have had no missile launches or provocative acts on the part of, or provocative actions, on the part of North Korea since the UN Security Council resolution” sanctioning Pyongyang on August 5, Tillerson said at the State Department, despite Pyongyang’s warning of an “uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war” just days prior.
“I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has demonstrated restraint,” Tillerson said, speaking just hours after the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against Russian and Chinese firms that do business with North Korea, enabling it to fund its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
“We hope this is the signal we have been looking for, that they are ready to restrain provocative acts. And perhaps we are seeing a pathway in the near future to having some dialogue,” he added.
Nerves in Asia were on edge in July after North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles that could in theory reach the U.S. mainland. The launches prompted the unanimous August vote of the Security Council to slap Pyongyang with sanctions that could slash its $3 billion export revenue by as much as one-third.
Then tensions soared in early August after Trump declared that North Korea would face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the U.S. Pyongyang responded the next day with more threats, including a warning that it would target Guam. The threats have only continued.
But as Tillerson said Tuesday, the DPRK hasn’t taken any action. “I want to take note of that and acknowledge it,” Tillerson said. “We need to see more on their part, but I want to it acknowledge the steps they have taken thus far. That it’s important to take note of it.”