NKorea says it will speed up nuke program in response to US

"Now that the U.S.is kicking up the overall racket for sanctions and pressure against the DPRK, pursuant to its new DPRK policy called "maximum pressure and engagement", the DPRK will speed up at the maximum pace the measure for bolstering its nuclear deterrence", a spokesman for North Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by its official KCNA news agency. "We have breaking news".

As a presidential candidate, Mr Trump suggested he was open to meeting Kim, but had not repeated the line since taking office.

The United States is looking for China to use its influence with Pyongyang to rein in its advancing nuclear and missile programs, and it is unclear how Beijing will react to the development.

Trump's comment about meeting Kim comes as tensions have risen in recent months between the U.S. and North Korea as Pyongyang has sought to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and Washington has made a show of force in the region to deter their use.

On Monday Pyongyang declared that it was ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test whenever leadership deemed appropriate, as the North Korean capital continues trading shows of force with Washington.

Yet on other occasions, Trump's administration has dangled carrots.

North Korea, technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, regularly threatens to destroy the United States, Japan and South Korea and has said it will pursue its nuclear and missile programs to counter perceived US aggression.

On one point, at least, Mr Trump and his team have been consistently clear: A solution requires China, the North's biggest economic partner.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Trump praised THAAD, saying it was "phenomenal, shoots missiles right out of the sky", but questioned why the United States was paying for it.

Mr Trump's suggestion of admiration for Kim, however, is something entirely new.

Spicer also offered an explanation for Trump's view, expressed to CBS, that Kim is a "smart cookie".

Trump said on Monday that he would consider meeting Kim "under the right circumstances".

"Clearly conditions are not there right now", he added.

But echoing Trump's gentler tone, Spicer said Kim had "managed to lead a country forward" from a young age. Much of the country is impoverished and malnourished.

Trump's remarks on the North Korean leader have caught the attention of Chinese state media.

Across the border, South Korea on Tuesday said a USA -sponsored missile defense system is now operational - over China's strong objections. As president, Obama ultimately spoke by phone with Iran's leader and traveled to Cuba amid an historic detente with the island nation.

China has been pushing for the two sides to back down following a string of missile tests by North Korea and a massive live-fire artillery drill last week that was described as its largest ever. "If he gets the long-range missiles, we're not safe either".

"Now that the U.S. is kicking up the overall racket for sanctions and pressure against the DPRK, pursuant to its new DPRK policy called "maximum pressure and engagement", the DPRK will speed up at the maximum pace the measure for bolstering its nuclear deterrence", a spokesman for North Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by its official KCNA news agency.

  • Joey Payne