UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea warned Monday that U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which it called "the most undisguised nuclear war maneuvers," are driving the Korean Peninsula and northeast Asia toward "nuclear disaster."
The North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, Ja Song Nam, said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council that the U.S. is using nuclear-propelled aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, nuclear strategic bombers and stealth fighters in the joint exercises that began Wednesday.
"It may go over to an actual war," Ja warned of the military drills, "and, consequently, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is again inching to the brink of a nuclear war."
The letter was sent a few hours after North Korea fired four banned ballistic missiles, in apparent reaction to the U.S.-South Korean exercises. Three of them landed in waters that Japan claims as its exclusive economic zone, South Korean and Japanese officials said.
The United States and Japan, in consultation with South Korea, requested an urgent Security Council meeting on the launches, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations said. The closed consultations will take place Wednesday morning after the Security Council returns from a visit to four Boko Haram-affected countries in Africa, the mission said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the tests, calling them a violation of council resolutions and reiterating his call for North Korea's leaders "to refrain from further provocations and return to full compliance with its international obligations," U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Ri Song Chol, a counsellor at North Korea's U.N. mission, told The Associated Press the missile launches were a continuation of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un's efforts "to strengthen our self-defensive military forces and pre-emptive attack capabilities" in response to "nuclear threats and blackmails" and the U.S.-South Korean military exercises.
He accused the United States of spurring the North to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile and reiterated a Foreign Ministry statement issued Jan. 8 that an ICBM would be launched "in any time and in any place decided by our supreme leadership."
Ri claimed the current joint military exercises are "for pre-emptive strike to the DPRK" — the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. He said that is in contrast to previous annual exercises that the U.S. and South Korea called preventive and defensive.
Ja, the ambassador, again urged the Security Council to discuss the U.S.-South Korea exercises and warned that if it ignores North Korea's request, as it has in the past, it will demonstrate the U.N.'s most powerful body is only a "political tool" of the United States.
He said the United States seeks to convince public opinion that the latest joint exercise is a response to North Korea's nuclear weapons, but he said the U.S. and South Korea carried out military drills numerous times before Pyongyang possessed its "nuclear deterrent."
Ja said the main reason North Korea is equipping itself "with nuclear attack capabilities" and strengthening its nuclear deterrent forces is in self-defense against what he called the U.S. "extreme anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmails as well as maneuvers to enforce its nuclear weapons."
North Korea's U.N. mission also issued a statement denouncing and rejecting a report by the Security Council's panel of experts that monitors U.N. sanctions against the North.
The experts said North Korea is flouting sanctions by trading in prohibited weapons and other goods and using evasion techniques "that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication."
The North Korean mission again insisted that U.N. sanctions "have no legal basis at all" and violate the country's "lawful rights." Furthermore, it contended no international law states that a nuclear test or satellite launch should be considered a "threat to international peace and security."
The mission reiterated its request to the U.N. secretary-general to organize an international forum of lawyers to clarify the legal basis of the sanctions resolutions. It said the U.N. Secretariat should not again respond with the "preposterous out-of-date sophistries" that it is up to the Security Council to determine what constitutes a threat to international peace and security.
The North also warned that sanctions resolutions and reports on enforcing implementation will only result in "our stronger self-defensive counter-measures" — and it said the United States, "the major fabricator of these resolutions," will bear all responsibility "for any uncontrolled critical situation over the Korean Peninsula."
Ja also sent a letter Monday to Guterres again seeking "United Nations' urgent measures" to repatriate 12 North Korean waitresses working at a restaurant in China who it says were tricked into defecting in April 2016 by South Korean agents and a woman named Kim Ryon Hui it claims was taken to South Korea in 2011 by deception.
The letter expressed disappointment at the U.N. failure to take action in these cases of what Ja called "egregious human rights violation" that constitute "a contemporary crime against humanity."