By Jack Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea accused the United States on Monday of violating its airspace by conducting surveillance flights and warned that, while Pyongyang was exercising restraint, such flights may be shot down.
Provocative military actions by the United States were bringing the Korean peninsula closer to a nuclear conflict, an unnamed spokesperson of North Korea’s Ministry of National Defence said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
It cited the use of U.S. reconnaissance planes and drones and said Washington was escalating tensions by sending a nuclear submarine near the peninsula.
“There is no guarantee that such a shocking accident as the downing of the U.S. Air Force strategic reconnaissance plane will not happen,” the spokesperson said.
The statement cited past incidents of North Korea shooting down or intercepting U.S. aircraft at the border with South Korea and off the coast. North Korea has often complained about U.S. surveillance flights near the peninsula.
Later on Monday, Kim Yo Jong – the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – said Pyongyang would respond decisively if the U.S. military entered North Korea’s economic zone again, KCNA said.
The Pentagon brushed aside Pyongyang’s accusations of airspace violations and said the U.S. military adhered to international law.
“So those accusations are just accusations,” Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh told reporters.
Asked about the North Korean statements, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller urged North Korea “to refrain from escalatory actions”, and reiterated a call for it “to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy”.Miller told a regular news briefing Washington was open to dialogue with North Korea without preconditions but Pyongyang had refused to engage in a meaningful way.
South Korea’s military said North Korea’s claim of airspace violation was not true, but U.S. air surveillance assets conduct routine reconnaissance flights around the peninsula.
KCNA said moves by the United States to introduce strategic nuclear assets to the Korean peninsula was “the most undisguised nuclear blackmail” against North Korea and regional countries and presents a grave threat to peace.
U.S. and South Korean forces have been conducting air and navy drills this year that involved a U.S. aircraft carrier and heavy bombers.
A U.S. nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine also made a port call at Busan in South Korea last month, and in April the leaders of South Korea and the United States agreed that a U.S. nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine would visit South Korea for the first time since the 1980s, although no timetable has been given for this.
“Whether the extreme situation, desired by nobody, is created or not on the Korean peninsula depends on the future action of the U.S., and if any sudden situation happens … the U.S. will be held totally accountable for it,” KCNA said.
The planned submarine visit is aimed at providing reassurance to South Korea in the face of threats and ballistic missile tests by nuclear-armed North Korea.
In June, a U.S. B-52 strategic bomber took part in air military drills with South Korea in a show of force following North Korea’s failed launch of a spy satellite at the end of May.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said it was time to show “the international community’s determination to deter North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is stronger than North Korea’s desire to develop nuclear weapons,” in written comments to the Associated Press published on Monday.
Yoon is to attend the NATO summit in Lithuania this week, where he is expected to seek greater cooperation with NATO members over North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, his office has said.
(Reporting by Jack Kim and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee in Seoul and David Brunnstrom, Simon Lewis and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Ed Davies, Lincoln Feast, Toby Chopra, William Maclean)