North Korea has launched a tirade against the “ignorant and stupid remarks” of US officials and threatened to walk away from a landmark summit with US President Donald Trump next month.
“Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behaviour of the United States,” said Choe Son Hui, a North Korean vice-foreign minister, on Thursday.
The comments followed continued references by US officials, in particular vice-president Mike Pence, to the “Libya model” for denuclearisation, which is increasingly being used by the White House as a euphemism for the overthrow and murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Referring to the forthcoming summit with North Korea, Mr Pence this week told US media: “This will only end like the Libya model if we don’t make a deal . . . The reality here is President Trump has made it clear from very early on that all options are on the table. We’re simply not going to tolerate the regime in North Korea.”
Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi was toppled and murdered in 2011 by western-backed rebels — a fate that North Korean officials believe he could have avoided had he not abandoned his nuclear weapons programme years earlier.
In its original form, the Libya model was intended to mean a denuclearisation deal based on exchanging nuclear weapons for sanctions relief and economic support.
“As a person involved in US affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the US vice-president,” said Ms Choe.
As it stands, Mr Trump is due to meet Mr Kim in Singapore on June 12 for a summit, which the US leader hopes will begin a process of denuclearisation in North Korea.
However, the potentially historic meeting has been thrown into jeopardy in recent days amid a bitter backlash from Pyongyang over what it calls Washington’s “unilateral” demands.
“In case the US offends against our goodwill and clings to unlawful and outrageous acts, I will put forward a suggestion to our supreme leadership for reconsidering the summit,” said Ms Choe.
Mr Trump has also cast doubt on whether the meeting would happen.
At the crux of the issue lies a chasm in perception over what prompted the summit in the first place.
Mr Trump believes his “maximum pressure” strategy coerced Mr Kim to the negotiating table and the US can dictate terms as a result.
For its part, North Korea said it agreed to the meeting out of its own volition and should be treated as an equal nuclear power in negotiations.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang was on Thursday poised to destroy its Punggye-ri nuclear test site in a move that was originally designed to convey its sincerity about denuclearisation.
Several journalists have been invited to watch the event, although no external experts or scientists will be present to verify the process.
Initially hailed as “gracious gesture” by Mr Trump, the dismantlement of the site has been criticised by experts, who say evidence about the extent of the regime’s nuclear programme will be lost in the process.