Pyongyang is ready to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the US if it sees that Washington is planning to target their country, a top North Korean official said, adding that the country is capable of conducting more nuclear tests.
“The US has nuclear weapons off our coast, targeting our country, our capital and our Dear Leader, Kim Jong-un,” Lee Yong-pil, a director of the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies, told NBC News.
According to the Pyongyang official, the North “will not step back as long as there’s a nuclear threat” to North Korea from the US.
“A preemptive nuclear strike is not something the US has a monopoly on… If we see that the US would do it to us, we would do it first… We have the technology.”
Lee said that the North’s nuclear policy was prompted by “the increasingly aggressive” military drills conducted by Seoul and Washington. Pyongyang may carry out “a sixth, a seventh or an eighth” nuclear test, he added.
“We have to have nuclear weapons to protect our country, and it’s our policy to go nuclear.”
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been running high since the beginning of 2016, as North Korea has been conducting nuclear and ballistic missile tests in violation of UN resolutions.
The situation has worsened since Washington’s recent decision to deploy sophisticated nuclear-capable bombers at its base on Guam in the western Pacific and the announcement of the deployment of THAAD missile systems in South Korea.
Pyongyang has repeatedly said that it is ready to battle the US “with nuclear hammers of justice” and that the North has all the resources necessary to battle US “nuclear hegemony.”
In September, Pyongyang confirmed it conducted its fifth nuclear test, announcing it is now capable of mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic rockets. Earlier, a powerful explosion measured 5.3 in magnitude was reported at the site of North Korea’s bomb tests by the US Geological Survey (USGS), triggering reports of an apparent nuclear test.
The test angered South Korea whose president, Park Geun-hye, accused North Korean leader Kim Jong-un of “maniacal recklessness” for pursuing their nuclear weapons program despite severe sanctions imposed on the North by the UN for repeated violations of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The September test appears to be the most powerful in the history of North Korea’s nuclear program (20-30 kilotons), according to estimates from South Korea’s Defense Ministry and data from various science and technology universities across the globe. The yield of the previous January 2016 test was about 6-10 kilotons. Earlier tests were conducted in 2013 (6-16 kilotons), 2009 (2-5 kilotons) and 2006 (1-2 kilotons).
North Korea’s latest test was harshly criticized by world powers. Russia accused Pyongyang of threatening the security of the Korean Peninsula and the entire region through its policies.
“We insist that North Korea stop its dangerous adventurism, abide by all resolutions of the UN Security Council, cease its nuclear missile programs and re-join the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement in September.
China vowed to lodge a diplomatic protest with North Korea’s Embassy. Its official news agency, Xinhua, said that all international parties should exercise restraint, stressing that no country will benefit from chaos or war on the Korean peninsula.