By James Oliphant and Dahee Kim
North Korea said on Saturday that nearly 3.5 million workers, party members and soldiers volunteered to join or rejoin its army to resist new UN sanctions and to fight against the United States in the current geopolitical tension between Pyongyang and Washington.
Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s official newspaper, said the volunteers had offered to join or rejoin the People’s Army after the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) issued a statement on Monday condemning new sanctions imposed by the United Nations in retaliation for North Korean missile tests.
The announcement came after US President Donald Trump issued a new threat to North Korea on Friday, saying the US military was “locked and loaded” as Pyongyang accused him of driving the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war and world powers expressed alarm.
The Pentagon said the United States and South Korea would proceed as planned with a joint military exercise in 10 days, an action sure to further antagonise North Korea.
China, Russia and Germany voiced dismay at the war of words between Pyongyang and Washington.
Trump, who has pressed China to help rein in its ally North Korea, spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping by telephone on Friday night, with the two leaders reiterating their mutual commitment to denuclearise the Korean peninsula, the White House said in a statement.
“President Trump and President Xi agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behaviour,” the statement said, adding the relationship between the two presidents was “an extremely close one, and will hopefully lead to a peaceful resolution of the North Korea problem”.
Trump and Xi also agreed that the recent adoption of a United Nations Security Council resolution on North Korea was an important step toward achieving peace and stability on the peninsula, the statement said.
China’s state media said Xi told Trump the North Korean nuclear issue required a peaceful resolution through talks, and urged the “relevant side” to exercise restraint, avoiding words or action that raise tension.
Trump, vacationing at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, again referred to North Korea’s leader in his latest bellicose remarks. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” he wrote on Twitter. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
The term “locked and loaded,” popularised in the 1949 war film Sands of Iwo Jima starring American actor John Wayne, refers to preparations for shooting a gun.
Asked later by reporters to explain the remark, Trump said: “Those words are very, very easy to understand.”
Again referring to Kim, Trump added, “If he utters one threat … or if he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”
In remarks to reporters after a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Trump said the situation with North Korea was “very dangerous and it will not continue.”
“We will see what happens. We think that lots of good things could happen, and we could also have a bad solution,” he said.
Despite the tough rhetoric, Trump insisted that “nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump.”
Trump said he thought US allies South Korea and Japan were “very happy” with how he was handling the confrontation.
The president, a wealthy businessman and former reality television personality, sent his tweet after North Korean state news agency, KCNA said in a statement that “Trump is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war.”
Guam, the Pacific island that is a US territory, posted emergency guidelines on Friday to help residents prepare for any potential nuclear attack after a threat from North Korea to fire missiles in its vicinity.
Guam is home to a US air base, a Navy installation, a Coast Guard group and roughly 6,000 US military personnel. KCNA said on Thursday the North Korean army would complete plans in mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land in the sea 18-25 30-40 km from Guam.
Trump called the governor of Guam, Eddie Baza Calvo. “We are with you a thousand per cent. You are safe,” Trump told Calvo, who posted a video of himself speaking with the president on Facebook.
Washington wants to stop Pyongyang from developing nuclear missiles that could hit the United States. North Korea sees its nuclear arsenal as protection against the United States and its partners in Asia.
Trump said he was considering additional sanctions on North Korea, adding these would be “very strong”. He gave no details and did not make clear whether he meant unilateral or multilateral sanctions.
US officials have said new US steps that would target Chinese banks and firms doing business with Pyongyang are in the works, but these have appeared to be put on hold to give Beijing time to show it is serious about enforcing new UN sanctions.