Asia Pacific

North Korea: 'US has now gone seriously mad'

US naval strike group set to arrive off peninsula amid concerns North Korea is preparing for a sixth nuclear test.

The USS Carl Vinson is expected off the Korean Peninsula in days [Tom Tonthat/US Navy via Reuters]

North Korea has once again threatened to launch "full-out war" with nuclear weapons, amid reports of the imminent arrival of an American naval strike group off the Korean Peninsula.

Tensions between the United States and the North have risen sharply in recent weeks as a series of North Korean missile tests have prompted dire warnings from President  Donald Trump's administration about curtailing its nuclear weapons programme.

The USS Carl Vinson will arrive in the Sea of Japan within days, American Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday, after mixed messages from the US over the warship's whereabouts.

READ MORE: Rising Korea tensions - The view from Seoul

The strike group was supposedly heading towards North Korea last week amid concerns that the North is preparing for a sixth nuclear test, with North Korea threatening to hit back at any provocation.  

But the US navy - which had earlier said the aircraft carrier would sail north from waters off Singapore as a "prudent measure" to deter North Korea - admitted on Tuesday that the ships were in fact sent away from Singapore and towards Australia to conduct drills with the Australian navy.

The aircraft carrier will arrive "in a matter of days", Pence said after the location of the naval strike group became contentious.

UN calls for calm over US-North Korea tensions

US officials have repeatedly warned "all options are on the table" - including military strikes - to curb the North's nuclear ambitions.

North Korea remained defiant in the face of the American show of force.

"Now that we possess mighty nuclear power to protect ourselves from US nuclear threat, we will respond without the slightest hesitation to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike, and we will emerge victor in the final battle with the United States," the North's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The North will celebrate the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People's Army on Tuesday and has marked important events in the past by launching missiles or conducting nuclear tests.

Tuesday's anniversary comes as the North finishes winter military drills and as South Korea and the US wrap up annual joint military exercises.

The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said on Saturday in a commentary that North Korea would not hesitate to launch a pre-emptive strike if provoked.

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"The US has now gone seriously mad. It is mulling frightening the DPRK and achieving something with nuclear strategic bombers, nuclear carriers, etc," Rodong Sinmun said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic Republic of Korea.

"However, the army and people of the DPRK will never be browbeaten by such bluffing.

"Under the situation where the US hurts the DPRK by force of arms, we have nothing to be bound to. The DPRK will answer to such war moves and provocations with pre-emptive strike of its own style and a great war of justice for national reunification."

Pence warns North Korea 'era of strategic patience is over'

Pence renewed US calls for China to use its "unique" position to bring North Korea to heel.

"The steps we're seeing China take, in many ways unprecedented steps, bringing economic pressure to bear on North Korea are very welcome," Pence said.

"We do believe China can do more."

Tensions between North Korea and the US go back to the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

However, the heat has been rising rapidly since  Trump  took office in January.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera recently, Sin Hong-chol, North Korea's deputy foreign minister, urged the US administration to "look at the world with open eyes".

"The time of dictating orders by brandishing the US military might has gone," he said.

"If those businessmen in power in the US thought of intimidating us by any military or sanction threats - as the [Barack] Obama administration used to do and failed - they will soon find out such threats are useless." 

 

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies