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    North Korea vows harsh retaliation against new sanctions

    South Korean soldiers patrolled along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the border with North Korea, on Monday.
    Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press
    South Korean soldiers patrolled along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the border with North Korea, on Monday.

    MANILA — North Korea on Monday spurned overtures from South Korea and the United States, and instead issued a new inflammatory threat to retaliate against the United States over new UN sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its missile and nuclear tests.

    In a speech at the ASEAN Regional Forum, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said that ‘‘under no circumstances’’ would it negotiate away its nuclear weapons, according to a transcript.

    In prepared remarks, Ri said that the entire US mainland is within firing range of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is North Korea’s official name.


    He said Pyongyang would use nuclear weapons only against the United States or any other country that might join it in military action against North Korea. And he dismissed stiff UN Security Council sanctions passed Saturday as illegal.

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    ‘‘We will, under no circumstances, put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table,’’ he said. ‘‘Neither shall we flinch even an inch from the road to bolstering up the nuclear forces chosen by ourselves, unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the US against the DPRK are fundamentally eliminated.’’

    To paint the United States as the global threat much of the world considers his own country to be, Ri pointedly mentioned the atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, and cast North Korea’s nuclear program as self-defensive in nature.

    ‘‘Since the emergence of nuclear weapons in the world, it has been proved throughout history that nukes can deter war,’’ he declared.

    Ri’s remarks went unheard by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who left the conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations early to attend a meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.


    Tillerson and other diplomats attending the security conference in Manila have spent the last two days racing to find a way to tamp down a standoff that is growing more entrenched and dangerous by the day.

    In a news conference earlier in the day, Tillerson said the United States is ready to talk with North Korea if it stops conducting tests of ballistic missiles, the latest ones considered capable of reaching the US mainland.

    ‘‘The best signal that North Korea could give us that they are prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches,’’ Tillerson said at a news conference in Manila. But, he added, ‘‘this is not a ‘Give me 30 days and we are ready to talk.’ It’s not quite that simple. So, it is all about how we see their attitude toward approaching a dialogue with us.’’

    Tillerson, who previously has said the United States does not seek regime change in Pyongyang, reiterated his hope that eventually the Korea Peninsula will rid itself of nuclear weapons.

    ‘‘We hope again that this ultimately will result in North Korea coming to a conclusion to choose a different pathway, and when the conditions are right that we can sit and have a dialogue around the future of North Korea so that they feel secure and prosper economically,’’ he told reporters.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho gave no ground in his speech.
    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho gave no ground in his speech.

    But North Korea is not in a conciliatory mood. In what was apparently a chance meeting at a gala dinner Sunday night, Ri spoke briefly with his counterpart from South Korea, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. During their talk, Ri rebuffed the South’s recent proposal to resume negotiations, calling the offer ‘‘insincere.’’

    A more direct warning was aimed at the United States in a government statement published by the state-run KCNA news agency. ‘‘There is no bigger mistake than the United States believing that its land is safe across the ocean,’’ it said.

    North Korea, KCNA said, ‘‘will make the US pay dearly for all the heinous crimes it commits against the state and people of this country.’’

    North Korea rarely attends, or is even invited to, international forums like the ASEAN meeting. Ri tried to make the most of it, holding meetings with diplomats from China and Russia, two countries that voted in favor of the latest sanctions. The new measures to punish North Korea include a ban on coal and other exports worth over $1 billion.

    China alone is responsible for 90 percent of North Korea’s trade, and Russia like China employs North Koreans as contract workers, whose salaries mostly go directly to their government.

    Moscow and Beijing both have proposed a ‘‘freeze for a freeze’’ approach, in which North Korea would suspend its missile and nuclear testing if the United States and its allies stop conducting joint military exercises in the region. Washington has rejected that, as a moral inequivalency.

    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he told Ri that North Korea should abide by UN prohibitions against missile and nuclear testing.

    But he also said that sanctions, while needed, ‘‘are not the final goal,’’ and called for dialogue. Wang urged the United States and South Korea, as well as the North, not to increase tensions.