US vice-president Mike Pence has warned North Korea against testing America’s determination with its nuclear threats, saying recent military strikes in Syria and Afghanistan showed Washington was ready to strike back with an “overwhelming and effective” response.
“North Korea will do well not to test his (president Donald Trump’s) resolve or strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Mr Pence said during a news conference with South Korea’s acting president and prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.
Mr Pence, who is in South Korea at the start of an Asian visit, was referring to the US air strike on a Syrian air base on April 7th after a suspected chemical attack, and the dropping of a massive bomb on an Islamic State complex in Afghanistan.
“We hope to achieve this objective (Pyongyang’s denuclearisation) through peaceful means, but all options are on the table,” he added, describing North Korea as the region’s “most dangerous and urgent threat.”
Earlier, Mr Pence visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the peninsula. Looking across the DMZ from the village of Panmunjom, Mr Pence said the US “era of strategic patience” with Pyongyang was finished.
This refers to the Obama administration’s policy approach, which has been criticised for failing to prevent the North from developing its nuclear programme.
Sabre-rattling and fiery rhetoric continued for another day on both sides of the heavily fortified border, and the whole region is watching developments in East Asia nervously, as North Korea refuses to yield and Mr Trump has described the country’s nuclear policy as a “problem that will be taken care of.”
Lying on the 38th Parallel, the DMZ is four kilometres wide and stretches right across the peninsula. The United States has about 28,500 troops and equipment stationed in South Korea.
Mr Pence denounced North Korea’s failure to follow through on its denuclearisation commitments.
“North Korea answered our overtures (for denuclearisation) with wilful deception, broken promises, and nuclear and missile tests,” he said.
Within the DMZ there are successive rows of barbed wire and fortifications, and at key points South Korean and North Korean soldiers face each other in one of the longest running face-offs in global geopolitics.
Panmunjom was where an armistice was signed ending the Korean War (1950-53). A formal peace treaty has never been signed and the two Koreas remain technically at war. Mr Pence’s father served in the conflict.
Yonhap news agency in South Korea reported that the US and South Korea staged a joint air force military exercise called Max Thunder on Monday.
For its part, North Korea is believed to be preparing to conduct a sixth nuclear test any day now.
Mr Pence and Mr Hwang reaffirmed their agreement to deploy the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, anti-missile system.
China is angry about the deployment, fearing that the system’s powerful radar could hurt its strategic security interests but Mr Pence said the “defensive measure” was “called for by and called for the alliance.”
Mr Pence travels on to Japan on Tuesday. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe urged North Korea not to take any more provocative steps. Mr Pence’s trip also takes him to Indonesia and Australia.