SEOUL: North Korea has described itself as a “proud nuclear power” and threatened to hit back if attacked, as the United States tracked one of its ships on suspicion it is carrying a banned weapons cargo.
Rodong Sinmun, newspaper of the ruling communist party, accused Washington of building up its regional firepower and denounced “reckless remarks” that US warships would stop and search its cargo vessels.
It is “nonsense” to claim that the North threatens the United States, the paper said, but reiterated recent vows not to surrender nuclear weapons.
“As long as the DPRK (North Korea) has become a proud nuclear power, the US should take a correct look at who it is dealing with,” Rodong said.
“It is a great mistake for the US to think it will not be hurt if it ignores this and ignites the fuse of war on the Korean peninsula.”
Regional tensions are at their highest for years after the North launched a long-range rocket on April 5 and conducted its second nuclear test on May 25, attracting tougher UN sanctions.
US and South Korean officials say there are signs it plans another ballistic missile launch. A Japanese media report said a rocket could be fired in the direction of Hawaii on or around US Independence Day on July 4.
The North staged missile launches in 2006 while the United States was marking the holiday.
“This administration — and our military — is fully prepared for any contingencies,” US President Barack Obama told CBS News when asked about the possibility.
The interview was to be aired Monday but excerpts were released in advance.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week the military has strengthened anti-missile defences around Hawaii.
Defence officials say a US destroyer is tracking a North Korean ship previously linked to trafficking in missile-related cargoes — the first such action since a new UN resolution authorised ship inspections by member states.
South Korea’s YTN television news channel, citing an intelligence source, said the United States suspects that the 2,000-tonne Kang Nam 1 is carrying missiles or related parts and is heading for Myanmar via Singapore.
US officials have not said if or when they might ask to search the vessel under Resolution 1874, which does not authorise the use of force.
North Korea has reacted defiantly to the latest sanctions, vowing to build more nuclear bombs. Some US intelligence officials have been quoted as saying it may conduct a third atomic test.
While the US has said it wants the sanctions to bite, China’s full cooperation in them is seen as essential. It is Pyongyang’s sole major ally and leading trade partner.
Obama in the interview said there was a strong international consensus against Pyongyang.
The resolution called for tighter cargo inspections, a stricter arms embargo and new targeted financial curbs to freeze revenue for the North’s nuclear and missile sectors.
“That sends a signal… of a unity in the international community that we haven’t seen in quite some time,” Obama told CBS.
“And one of the things that we have been very clear about is that North Korea has a path towards rejoining the international community. And we hope they take that path. What we’re not going to do is to reward belligerence and provocation in the way that’s been done in the past.”
Obama last week called Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions a “grave threat” and vowed to defend South Korea after talks in Washington with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak.
The North in turn accused Obama and Lee of “trying to ignite a nuclear war.” “The US-touted provision of ‘extended deterrence, including a nuclear umbrella’ (for South Korea) is nothing but ‘a nuclear war plan,'” the state-run weekly Tongil Sinbo said in a weekend commentary.