By RICK GLADSTONE
North Korea’s foreign minister escalated tensions with the United States on Monday, saying that President Donald Trump’s threatening comments about the country and its leadership were “a declaration of war” and that North Korea had the right to shoot down U.S. warplanes, even if they are not in North Korean airspace.
The comments by the foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, came as he was just about to leave the United Nations after a week of General Assembly meetings in New York.
Referring to Trump’s assertion that the North Korean leadership may not “be around much longer,” Ri said at a news conference that the question of “who would be around much longer will be answered” by North Korea.
Ri, speaking two days after U.S. warplanes flew close to the North’s coast, added that “in light of the declaration of war by Trump, all options will be on the operations table of the supreme leadership” of North Korea.
The Pentagon said Saturday that the Air Force had sent B-1B bombers and F-15C fighters over waters north of the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas, in response to what it called the North Korean government’s “reckless behavior.”
It was the farthest north “any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century,” Dana W. White, the Defense Department’s chief spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, had said last week, “Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”