The threat of a North Korean nuclear strike is rising, US Secretary of Defense James Mathis said during a visit to South Korea. Mr Mattis warned that he would face a “big military response” if he used nuclear weapons.
North Korea also announced a South Korean fishing vessel, which is said to have been found in North Korea’s waters illegally. The team of 10 people was released Friday night, officials from South Korea said.
It comes at a time of heightened tension in the region, with both sides conducting a series of military exercises. “North Korea has accelerated the threat it gives to its neighbors and the world through its illegal, unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programs,” Mr Mattis said, the AP news agency reported this.
He said North Korea was involved in “outraged” behavior and said US-South Korea’s security cooperation has taken on “new urgency.” Washington could not accept nuclear North Korea, he added, speaking with his South Korean colleague Song Yang-mo.
Mr Mattis is in Seoul for annual defense talks with South Korea. US President Donald Trump is due to visit South Korea in November as part of a visit to Asia.
In September, North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test, which was its largest ever. It is believed that the bomb had a power of 50 to 120 kilotons. The 50kt device will be about three times the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
It also conducted a series of missile tests, firing two ballistic missiles over Japan in August and September. South Korea has begun deploying the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (US) missile defense system in response to the threat of a rocket attack from the north.
Earlier this month, the US and South Korea also launched joint military exercises in the waters around the Korean Peninsula. In this military exercises was involved fighter planes, destroyers and aircraft.
Exercises angered the North, and Pyongyang in the past denounced them as “a trial for war”. Also, the United States imposed sanctions on seven North Koreans and three entities for “flagrant” human rights abuses.
Finance Secretary Steven Mnuchin said these sanctions include diplomats based in China and Vietnam who participated in the forced repatriation of North Korean asylum seekers.