Warning to North Korea

SEOUL: South Korea and the US agreed today on "swift punitive measures" against North Korea in the event of further provocation, as a North Korean official vowed it would push ahead with nuclear and missile tests to counter US "hostile acts".

As a standoff escalated over North Korea's nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, South Korea said the deployment of a US anti-missile defence system was moving ahead effectively a day after angry protests against the battery and fierce opposition from China.

"The two sides pledged that in the event of additional strategic provocation by the North to swiftly take punitive measures including a new United Nations Security Council resolution that are unbearable for the North," the South's presidential office said after its national security adviser, Kim Kwan-jin, held a phone call with his US counterpart H. R. McMaster.

The United States and North Korea have stepped up warnings to each other in recent weeks over North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and missiles in defiance of UN resolutions.

The North Korean threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting US President Donald Trump.

He has vowed to stop the North from being able to hit the US with a nuclear missile and Vice-President Mike Pence last week stressed that the "era of strategic patience" was over.

Though it has warned "all options are on the table", Trump's administration said on Wednesday it aimed to push North Korea into dismantling its weapons programmes through tougher sanctions and diplomatic pressure, and it remained open to talks.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson, defence secretary Jim Mattis and director of national intelligence Dan Coats described North Korea as "an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority".

The US signal of a willingness to exhaust non-military avenues came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group approached Korean waters, where it will join the USS Michigan nuclear submarine.

North Korea, which conducted its biggest ever artillery exercise to mark the 85th anniversary of its military's creation on Tuesday, says it needs to develop weapons to defend itself from US aggression.

A North Korean official speaking on CNN said the country would not be influenced by outside events.

"As long as America continues its hostile acts of aggression, we will never stop nuclear and missile tests," said Sok Chol Won, director of the North's Institute of Human Rights at the Academy of Social Sciences.

North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun said it was "entirely because of the US" that global denuclearisation had not materialised.

"So US officials should know this clearly and feel responsible, not play with their beaks thoughtlessly," it said. – Reuters