North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in an extraordinary and direct rebuke, called President Donald Trump "deranged" and said he will "pay dearly" for his threats, a possible indication of more powerful weapons tests on the horizon.
Kim said Trump is "unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country." He also described the U.S. president as "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire."
Later, South Korean media reported North Korea's top diplomat says his country may test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean to fulfill leader Kim Jong Un's vow to take the "highest-level" action against the United States.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho comments Thursday on the sidelines of a United Nations gathering followed an extraordinary direct statement by Kim in response to Trump's threat to "totally destroy" the North.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reports that Ri told reporters in New York that a response "could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific."
Kim's dispatch was unusual in that it was written in the first person, albeit filtered through the North's state media, which is part of propaganda efforts meant to glorify Kim. South Korean media called it the first such direct address to the world by Kim.
Some analysts saw a clear announcement that North Korea would ramp up its already brisk pace of weapons testing, which has included missiles meant to target U.S. forces throughout Asia and the U.S. mainland.
"I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK," said the statement carried by North's official Korean Central News Agency on Friday morning.
DPRK is the abbreviation of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The statement responded to Trump's combative speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday where he mocked Kim as a "Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission," and said that if "forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."
Kim characterized Trump's speech to the world body as "mentally deranged behavior."
He said Trump's remarks "have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last."
Kim said he is "thinking hard" about his response and that Trump "will face results beyond his expectation."
Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said Kim Jong Un's statement indicated that North Korea will respond to Trump with its most aggressive missile test yet. That might include firing a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan to a range of around 7,000 kilometers (4,349 miles) to display a capability to reach Hawaii or Alaska.
The statement will further escalate the war of words between the adversaries as the North moves closer to perfecting a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America.
In recent months, the North has launched a pair of still-developmental ICBMs it said were capable of striking the continental United States and a pair of intermediate-range missiles that soared over Japanese territory. Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date drawing stiffer U.N. sanctions.
On Thursday, Trump added economic action to his fiery military threats against North Korea, authorizing stiffer new sanctions in response to the Koreans' nuclear weapons advances. He said China was imposing major banking sanctions, too, but there was no immediate confirmation from the North's most important trading partner.
Trump praised China for instructing its banks to cut off business with Pyongyang, but neither the Chinese nor Trump officials were ready to say so. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he had spoken at length Thursday with the head of China's central bank but "I am not going to comment on confidential discussions."
If enforced, the Chinese action Trump described could severely impede the isolated North's ability to raise money for its missile and nuclear development. China, responsible for about 90 percent of North Korea's trade, serves as the country's conduit to the international banking system.
Trump's announcement of U.S. action came as he met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly with leaders from South Korea and Japan, the nations most immediately imperiled by North Korea's threats of a missile strike. His executive order adds to a U.S.-led campaign to isolate and impoverish Kim Jong Un's government until it halts the missile and nuclear tests that, combined with Trump's threats, have stoked global fears of war.
The concern has intensified as Pyongyang has marched closer in recent months to achieving a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America. The crisis has dominated the president's debut at this week's annual General Assembly meeting, where Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if forced to defend the United States or its allies.
"North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile development is a grave threat to peace and security in our world and it is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal, rogue regime," Trump said Thursday as joined Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in for lunch. "Tolerance for this disgraceful practice must end now."
Mnuchin said the executive order expands the Treasury Department's ability to target anyone conducting significant trade in goods, services or technology with North Korea, and to ban them from interacting with the U.S. financial system.
"Foreign financial institutions must choose between doing business with the United States or facilitating trade with North Korea or its designated supporters," the order says. It also issues a 180-day ban on vessels and aircraft that have visited North Korea from visiting the United States.
Washington, however, is still banking on Beijing's help to get the North to stand down.
Trump commended Chinese President Xi Jinping for a "very bold" order by his nation's central bank to stop China's financial institutions from dealing with North Korea. Such action, if confirmed by China, would answer a longstanding request from the U.S. and its allies. They also want strict Chinese enforcement of U.N. sanctions that were tightened this month after North Korea's most powerful nuclear test to date.
In recent months, the North also has launched a pair of intercontinental missiles believed capable of striking the continental United States and another pair that soared over Japanese territory.
Trump said the China action he described "was a somewhat unexpected move and we appreciate it."
China remains leery of pressuring North Korea into collapse and has resisted cutting off its critical oil supplies, not wanting chaos on its border. Along with Russia, China wants the U.S. to seek dialogue with the North. American officials say the time isn't right for any formal diplomatic process. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday that negotiations are the "only way out" of the nuclear standoff.
Several news outlets this month have reported Chinese steps to restrict banking transactions, but the government hasn't made a formal announcement. Asked for comment last week, the Foreign Ministry said China has always fully implemented U.N. sanctions on North Korea but opposes "unilateral" restrictions imposed by another country on Chinese entities. China's embassy in Washington declined to comment Thursday.
Trump's return to focusing on North Korea's economy may temper international unease over his tough address Tuesday. He mocked Kim as a "Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission," and sketched out potentially cataclysmic consequences. While Trump spoke of his own nation's patience, he said that if "forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."
Trump's messengers backed him up in television appearances Thursday. Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News: "We do not desire a military conflict. But the president has made it very clear, as he did at the U.N. this week, that all options are on the table and we are simply not going to tolerate a rogue regime in Pyongyang obtaining usable nuclear weapons that could be mounted on a ballistic missile and threaten the people of the United States or our allies."
Trump's heated language was rare for a U.S. president at the rostrum of the United Nations. But the speech was textbook Trump, dividing the globe into friends and foes and taking unflinching aim at America's enemies. He drew a sharp rebuke from the North's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, who said, "It would be a dog's dream if he intended to scare us with the sound of a dog barking."