U.S. not seeing indications of ‘direct’ N. Korean threat at this time: Washington official

January 26, 2024

The United States is not seeing indications of a direct military threat from North Korea at the moment, a U.S. official said Thursday, after Washington officials were reported to have warned North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could take some “lethal” military action against South Korea in the coming months.

Earlier in the day, The New York Times (NYT) reported on the possibility of the North’s military action as concerns rose over Kim’s pugnacious rhetoric against the South and his regime’s repeated weapons tests, including this week’s launch of what it claimed to be a new strategic cruise missile.

“While we are not seeing indications of a direct military threat at this time, we continue to monitor for the risk of DPRK military action against the ROK and Japan, in close consultation with our ROK and Japanese allies,” the official said in response to a question from Yonhap News Agency.

ROK stands for the South’s official name, the Republic of Korea, while the DPRK is the acronym of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The official also stressed the strong state of security cooperation between Seoul and Washington and their trilateral cooperation with Japan.

“While the DPRK has continued its provocative and destabilizing actions in the region, under President Biden, the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea has never been stronger,” the official said.

“In addition, the unparalleled trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan and the ROK directly contributes to regional security amid the DPRK’s destabilizing actions and rhetoric,” the official added.

The NYT reported on the U.S. officials’ assessment, noting that North Korean leader’s tough rhetoric against the South has been more aggressive than his previous statements and should be taken “seriously.”

Concerns about the North’s future course of action have risen recently as Kim has called for beefed-up war readiness and preparations for a “great event to suppress South Korea’s whole territory in the event of a contingency.” Kim has also pushed for a constitutional revision to label the South as the “invariable principal enemy.”

Last Friday, John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, noted the need to take Kim’s rhetoric “seriously.”

“You have to take rhetoric like that seriously from a man in charge of the regime that continues to pursue advanced military capabilities, including nuclear capabilities,” Kirby told a press briefing.

The North’s provocative streak comes amid already heightened cross-border tensions following the North’s exit from a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement aimed at reducing border tensions and preventing accidental clashes.