(CNN)North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned the United States that the nuclear button is always on his desk.
“The entire mainland of the US is within the range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office. They should accurately be aware that this is not a threat but a reality,” he said in his New Year’s address to his country Monday, according to a CNN translation of his speech.
He also declared that his country is “a responsible nuclear nation that loves peace” and said that as long as there’s no aggression directed at it, “we do not intend to use nuclear powers.”
Despite those declarations, Kim then called for accelerated production of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.
“As for the areas of nuclear weapons research and rocket engineering, we need to accelerate the mass production of nuclear warheads, whose power and reliability have already been secured, and ballistic missiles,” Kim said, adding that the country also needed to be ready “to retaliate against the enemy’s move for a nuclear war.”
Tension has been rising between the United States and North Korea in recent months. Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that the United States is “closer to a nuclear war with North Korea” than ever.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Mullen warned that President Donald Trump’s provocative rhetoric aimed at Kim Jong Un likely indicates he would prefer to take a more aggressive approach to countering the rogue regime’s rapidly evolving nuclear weapons program.
Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted new sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s November 29 ballistic missile test, seeking to further strangle its energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling and the use of North Korean workers overseas.
North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA released a report Saturday promising that the country would remain committed to its nuclear development in 2018.
“Do not expect any change in its policy,” the report read.
“Its entity as an invincible power can neither be undermined nor be stamped out. The DPRK, as a responsible nuclear weapons state, will lead the trend of history to the only road of independence and justice, weathering all tempests on this planet,” the report continued, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Joint military exercises
In early December, the US began another round of military exercises with South Korea, flying in F-22 fighter jets and other military aircraft.
A US 7th Air Force official said the top-of-the-line F-22s are being joined by Air Force and Marine Corps F-35s in the largest concentration of fifth-generation fighter jets ever in South Korea.
A senior South Korean Air Force official told CNN at the time that the war games would include attacks against a mock North Korean missile launch site with mock North Korean radars.
In his New Year’s address, Kim again denounced the exercises.
“These military exercises that you have with our enemy the USA must be halted at this very moment, because this behavior only causes fire and destruction on this great country,” the North Korean leader said, apparently addressing South Korea.
“North and South must work together to alleviate the tensions and work together as a people of the same heritage to find peace and stability,” Kim added.