Defiant North Korea hints at nuclear tests to boost force 'to the maximum'

North Korea suggested on Monday it will continue its nuclear weapons tests, saying it will bolster its nuclear force "to the maximum" in a "consecutive and successive way at any moment" in the face of what it calls U.S. aggression and hysteria.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said a "major, major conflict" with North Korea is possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, while China said last week the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control.

In a show of force, the United States has sent the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula to join drills with South Korea to counter a series of threats of destruction from North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

"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.

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Photojournalist captures North Korea's celebration of leader Kim Il Sung
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Photojournalist captures North Korea's celebration of leader Kim Il Sung
People walk between buildings after the opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean soldiers march as they visit the newly constructed residential complex after its opening ceremony in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Thousands of people arrive for an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People carry flags after an opening ceremony for the newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Men wearing uniforms check a newly constructed residential complex after its opening ceremony in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Women dressed in traditional costumes walk near the main Kim Il Sung square in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Women wear traditional clothes as North Korea prepares to mark Saturday's 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea's founding father and grandfather of the current ruler, in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
A man walks the the street decorated with flags as North Korea prepares to mark Saturday's 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea's founding father and grandfather of the current ruler, in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People practice for the expected parade on the main Kim Il-Sung Square in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Military officers visit the birthplace of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, a day before the 105th anniversary of his birth, in Mangyongdae, just outside Pyongyang, North Korea April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People react as a vehicle carrying foreign reporters passes towards the newly constructed residential complex before its opening in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Portraits of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung and late leader Kim Jong Il glow as people take part in a mass dance event marking the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Soldiers check their souvenir photo as they visit the flower exhibition marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People sweep in front of statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People enjoy the Munsu water park in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People wait in line for a water slide as they enjoy the Munsu water park in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People gather at the entrance of a zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Twin girls enjoy their time in a zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People travel on escalators to enter a subway station in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
The sun set in Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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North Korea's "measures for bolstering the nuclear force to the maximum will be taken in a consecutive and successive way at any moment and any place decided by its supreme leadership," the spokesman said.

Reclusive North Korea has carried out five nuclear tests and a series of missile tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council and unilateral resolutions. It has been conducting such tests at an unprecedented rate and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

It test-launched a missile on Saturday which Washington and Seoul said was unsuccessful, but which nevertheless drew widespread international condemnation.

'TOP PRIORITY'

South Korea said the United States had reaffirmed it would shoulder the cost of deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to counter the North Korean threat, days after Trump said Seoul should pay for the $1 billion battery.

In a telephone call on Sunday, Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, reassured his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, that the U.S. alliance with South Korea was its top priority in the Asia-Pacific region, the South's presidential office said.

Trump, asked about his message to North Korea after the latest missile test, told reporters: "You'll soon find out," but did not elaborate on what the U.S. response would be.

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North Korea unveils new weapons at military parade
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North Korea unveils new weapons at military parade
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un applauds during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
High ranking military officers cheer as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives for a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People react as they march past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
TOPSHOT - Korean People's Army (KPA) tanks are displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers march on Kim Il-Sung squure during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people attending a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Military vehicles carry missiles with characters reading "Pukkuksong" during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Members of the Korean People's Army (KPA) ride on mobile missile launchers during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
An unidentified rocket is displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
People carry flags in front of statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A soldier salutes from atop an armoured vehicle as it drives past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
North Korean soldiers attend a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Attendees carry sheets in colours of the national flag of North Korea during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
North Korean soldiers, some of them on horses, march during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Civilian attendees watch North Korean soldiers marching during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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Trump stepped up his outreach to allies in Asia over the weekend to discuss the North Korean threat and make sure all are "on the same page" if action is needed, a top White House official said.

"There is nothing right now facing this country and facing the region that is a bigger threat than what is happening in North Korea," White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told ABC's "This Week."

The THAAD deployment has drawn protests from China, which says the powerful radar that can penetrate its territory will undermine regional security, and from residents of the area in which it is being deployed, worried they will be a target for North Korean missiles.

The United States is seeking more help from China, the North's major ally, to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development. Trump, in the Reuters interview, praised Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as a "good man".

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high for weeks over fears the North may conduct a long-range missile test, or its sixth nuclear test, around the time of the April 15 anniversary of its state founder's birth.

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 before it will pursue its nuclear and missile programs to counter perceived U.S. aggression.

(Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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