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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

North Korea threatens nuclear detonation in Pacific

North Korea on Friday hinted that it might explode a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean as its leader described US president Donald Trump as "mentally deranged" and warned he would "pay dearly" for his threats.

In a rare personal attack published hours after Washington announced tougher sanctions, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took aim at Mr Trump over his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly in which he branded him "rocket man" and threatened to "totally destroy North Korea".

Mr Trump "insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history", Mr Kim said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

"I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the US pay dearly for his speech," the North Korean leader said, calling it "unprecedented rude nonsense".

"I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire."

In New York, where the United Nations is holding its annual General Assembly, North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho said Pyongyang might now consider detonating a hydrogen bomb outside its territory.

"I think that it could be an H-bomb test at an unprecedented level perhaps over the Pacific," he said. However, he added: "It is up to our leader so I do not know well."

Mr Trump issued an executive order on Thursday to prohibit firms from operating in the United States if they deal with North Korea.

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The move was the latest effort to tighten the screws on Pyongyang over its banned weapons programmes, following it sixth and largest nuclear test this month and the firing of two missiles over Japan in recent weeks.

It came after the UN Security Council had agreed on further sanctions on North Korea to reduce its ability to trade with the outside world.

Analysts say the sanctions show no signs of working, and cautioned that the increasingly ill-tempered and personal exchanges between Washington and Pyongyang did not augur well.

"There are some very dangerous things that could come that move this from theatre to reality. This is the time to be heading them off, not making them feel inevitable," said John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul.

He added that Mr Kim's rare first-person statement could also have been aimed at North Koreans.

"He is telling his country that the American president at the United Nations said he is going to totally destroy us … but I am not going to let that happen," Mr Delury said.

The statement was published in North Korean newspapers and read out on state television by a star news anchor speaking over a still image of Mr Kim at his desk holding a sheet of paper.

The announcement, which was scheduled to be broadcast repeatedly, was followed by video footage of a giant missile on a launch pad and North Korean soldiers angrily waving fists and guns in the air.

Ri Yong-suk, manager of the Pyongyang Dental Sanitary Goods Factory, said she read the statement in the newspaper.

"I am full of faith that everyone will support the dear leader and safeguard our country," she said.

China called for restraint on Friday, saying the "situation on the Korean Peninsula now is complicated and sensitive".

"All relevant parties should exercise restraint instead of provoking each other," foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing in Beijing.

"We believe that only if relevant parties meet each other halfway can they really solve the Korean Peninsula issue and truly realise peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

China wields the most influence on North Korea, providing an economic lifeline. But it also fears the consequences if the regime collapses, such as an exodus of refugees or a US-allied, reunited Korea on its border.

Washington has so far rejected appeals from China and Russia to negotiate with Pyongyang.

"Negotiation is the only way out and deserves every effort," Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told the General Assembly.

The sentiments were echoed by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who said "military hysteria is not just an impasse, it's disaster".

North Korea's foreign minister is expected to meet on Saturday with UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, who will send out feelers on the possibility diplomatic talks.

But Chung Sung-Yoon, analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said that the North itself may have shelved the idea of negotiations until it reaches its nuclear goal.

"People say this is all part of its brinkmanship strategy to force the US to come forward for negotiation. But the North is leaving too little room for the US to do so with the latest series of threats and provocations," he said.