- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2013

North Korea’s military ratcheted up its threat to carry out a nuclear strike on the U.S. to new heights Thursday — just hours after the Pentagon announced the deployment of an American ballistic missile defense system to Guam.

Claiming that the “moment of explosion is approaching fast” and that war could break out “today or tomorrow,” the General Staff of North Korea’s military claimed in a statement to the nation’s official government-run news agency that it has final approval to carry out “merciless” strikes on the United States.

The statement appeared to come in response to Washington’s decision to enhance U.S. military assets in the region and to the Obama administration’s own ramping up of rhetoric toward North Korea in recent days.

SEE ALSO: Pentagon to deploy missile defense to Guam to counter N. Korea

The escalation comes as senior administration officials say that they are searching for ways to defuse the situation, which also saw North Korea on Wednesday block South Koreans from accessing a border industrial park that has long stood as an important, albeit precarious, symbol of cooperation on the Korean Peninsula.

The State Department and Pentagon have suggested that a core part of the administrations Korea strategy is to gently push on China to play a more active role in steering Pyongyang away from provocations and threats that may ultimately provoke military conflict.

But foreign policy insiders say the administration faces an uphill battle.

SEE ALSO: Obama and China ‘talking past each other’ on N. Korea

“Since the Chinese are the party that knows the North Koreans best and has the most comprehensive relationship with them, they clearly have leverage that I think the administration would like to see Beijing bring to bear,” said Scott A. Snyder, who heads the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The catch, Mr. Snyder said, is that the U.S. and China see the North Korean problem differently.

“The fundamental challenge for North Korea as an issue in the U.S-China relationship is that China views it from the perspective of geopolitics while the U.S. has viewed it as a functional denuclearization issue,” he said, adding that “the U.S. and China have been talking past each other” rather than truly working together.

North Korea has bowed to Chinese pressure in the past, but the threat made by Pyongyang’s military Wednesday seems to suggest that the nation is bent on flouting international pressure under the leadership of 28-year-old leader Kim Jong-un, who came to power a year ago this month.

While it is unclear whether North Korean military commanders are working in direct concert with the young leader, the latest threat claimed that a potential nuclear attack option by the military “has been finally examined and ratified.”

The assertion made international headlines just after the Pentagon had announced the deployment of a land-based missile defense system to Guam, a U.S. island territory about 2,100 miles southeast of North Korea in the Pacific Ocean, where some 6,000 U.S. troops are stationed.

The deployment comes after a week of tough statements directed at North Korea by the Obama administration.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry described recent threats by Mr. Kim as “reckless” and “provocative,” and vowed that the U.S. is prepared to “do what is necessary” to defend itself and its core allies in Asia.

And early on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters that Pyongyang’s recent posturing represents a “real and clear danger and threat” being taken seriously by Washington.

Story Continues →