By Joshua Rhett Miller October 17, 2016 | 11:02am
A top North Korean official is warning that the isolated nation is ready to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the US if necessary, NBC News reported Monday.
“The US has nuclear weapons off our coast, targeting our country, our capital and our dear leader, Kim Jong Un,” Lee Yong Pil, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies, told NBC News. “We will not step back as long as there’s a nuclear threat to us from the United States.”
Lee said the US does not have a “monopoly” on pre-emptive nuclear strikes.
“If we see that the US would do it to us, we would do it first,” Lee said. “We have the technology.”
North Korea may also conduct more nuclear tests, including a “sixth, a seventh or an eighth” trial, Lee said, adding that the hardened stance comes amid “increasingly aggressive” drills by the US and South Korea.
Lee’s comment comes as North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test month last month. In all, the nation has launched more than 20 ballistic missiles this year in an attempt to improve the delivery system for nuclear weapons, CBS News reported.
Lee said sanctions from the United Nations or pressure from the US would not stop North Korea’s effort to build a nuclear arsenal.
“We have to have nuclear weapons to protect our country, and it’s our policy to go nuclear,” Lee told NBC News.
Meanwhile, another North Korean official told NBC News that Pyongyang already has the capability to fire rockets that could reach the US mainland — something US and South Korean officials have said isn’t the case.
Hwang Yongnam, who is authorized to speak about North Korea’s missile program, said Pentagon officials are lying when they say North Korea can’t reach the continental US with a weapon.
But going nuclear isn’t the only lofty ambition for the hermit kingdom. Another North Korean official said Pyongyang is also launching rockets to send satellites into space.
“In the future, our goal is not just going to the moon, but to other planets,” Ri Won Hyok, a senior official for North Korea’s space program, told NBC News.
Ri denied claims that North Korea’s rocket program had been helped by the Russians or Iranians, saying “it’s 100 percent our own.”
US officials believe that North Korea’s launches thus far have not included any fully functioning satellites.
North Korea’s ballistic program took a step backward Saturday, when a ballistic missile fired from an airfield in the western city of Kusong immediately exploded after launch. Bloomberg.com reports the projectile was believed to be a mid-range weapon capable of hitting US military bases in Guam or Japan, likely a Musudan missile.
“The failed launch shows North Korea’s launch capability isn’t perfect, so Kim Jong Un might fire a Musudan again or any other missile soon given his temper,” Yoo Dong Ryul, president of Korea Institute of Liberal Democracy in Seoul, told Bloomberg.
The “illegal provocation,” an apparent violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, was strongly condemned by South Korea, according to a statement from its Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The US and its allies are looking for stronger measures to counteract North Korea’s nuclear ambitions after sanctions imposed by the Security Council in March failed to slow Pyongyang’s pace.
Saturday’s failed launch has thrust the situation into a “new phase,” Japan’s Defense Minister Tomoni Inada said on a television program in Fuji on Sunday. Tokyo is seeking a new response to the threat, Bloomberg reported.