The potential of an open military conflict between the United States and North Korea is growing, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said Saturday.
"I think it’s increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem," Lt. Gen. Herbert McMaster said speaking at a defense conference in California, as quoted by CNN.
Calling North Korea "the greatest immediate threat to the United States," McMaster, however, said that President Trump remains committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking further, McMaster said non-military ways still exist to the resolve the crisis, including calling on China to impose greater economic measures against North Korea, adding that Beijing has "tremendous coercive economic power" over Pyongyang.
"There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because [Kim Jong-un’s] getting closer and closer, and there’s not much time left," he said.
On Sunday, North Korea criticized the US policy on the ongoing crisis and called Washington a "warmonger," referring to the upcoming joint US-South Korean drills.
"It is an open, all-out provocation against the DPRK, which may lead to a nuclear war any moment," the North's ruling party Rodong newspaper said, using the official name of North Korea.
"The US and South Korean puppet warmongers would be well advised to bear in mind that their DPRK-targeted military drill will be as foolish as an act precipitating their self-destruction," the newspaper added.
A new joint US-South Korean military exercise is scheduled to kick off on Monday, December 4. The drills, known as Vigilant Ace, will involve 230 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor jets from the US Air Force, and some 12,000 US military personnel.
On Wednesday, the North launched a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) reportedly capable of covering 13,000 kilometers (8,077 miles). According to the South Korean Defense Ministry, the test was successful and the missile is believed to be capable of reaching Washington DC or any area of the continental US. Pyongyang commented on the launch, stating that it has completed its "nuclear force" with the development of the Hwasong-15 ICBM.
Commenting on the launch, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that Pyongyang sees no obstacle to the further development of its nuclear program, the country’s state media reported Sunday.
Meanwhile, US media reported that North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that US President Trump and his administration are "begging for nuclear war."
Trump is "staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula," the ministry said, as cited by CNN. According to the report, the statement also calls Trump a "nuclear demon" and a "disruptor of global peace."
After the North Korean missile test, Trump said Wednesday that "additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea," but did not provide details on what kind of sanctions would be imposed. In turn, US Envoy to the UN Nikki Haley reiterated the call, urging the international community to cut off ties with North Korea.
Just spoke to President XI JINPING of China concerning the provocative actions of North Korea. Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 29 ноября 2017 г.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has responded to the demands, saying that Moscow is against the idea of increasing sanctions pressure on North Korea, emphasizing that the US leadership’s latest actions were aimed at provoking Pyongyang.
As tensions on the Korean Peninsula have climbed to unprecedented heights this year amid an increased number of North Korean missile tests, Russia and China have proposed the so-called "double freeze" plan, which stipulates the simultaneous cessation of Pyongyang's nuclear tests and US-South Korea joint drills, which have repeatedly been called provocative by the North Korean leadership. Washington, however, has rejected the initiative.