World keeping watch on volatile Kim Jong Un

WASHINGTON – As the world waited to see if Kim Jong un will conduct another nuclear test, Pyongyang escalated its bellicose rhetoric Thursday by releasing a unnerving video depicting a simulation of rocket attacks on the U.S. Capitol and an American aircraft carrier in a Third World War.

The footage shows a missile descending upon Washington, D.C., and detonating in a giant fireball. Kim Jong un is seen smiling and waving as crowds watched a simulation of a U.S. city being wiped out in a nuclear attack.

The propaganda film comes after Pyongyang conducted massive live-fire artillery drills on Tuesday in the city of Wonsan, to commemorate the 85th anniversary of its million-person strong Korean People’s Army.

The exercises involved the firing of more than 300 large-caliber artillery pieces and included submarine torpedo-attacks on mock enemy warships, North Korea’s official media reported Wednesday.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited a government source as saying the exercise was the North’s “largest ever.”

North Korea’s nuclear threat is the most serious security challenge confronting the Trump administration so far, and the president is showing resolve, tough rhetoric and the U.S. military’s strength to exert America’s influence.

The president has ordered high-powered U.S. military vessels into the region in recent days, including an aircraft carrier.

The same day North Korea showed off its military might, USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, docked in South Korea. The vessel is now operating in the same area as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group off the Korean Peninsula in the Sea of Japan.

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During a White House luncheon with U.N. Security Council ambassadors Monday, Trump said the council must be prepared to impose stronger sanctions.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats briefed the entire U.S. Senate on Wednesday in Washington.

“Past efforts have failed to halt North Korea’s unlawful weapons programs and nuclear and ballistic missile tests,” Tillerson, Mattis and Coats said in joint statement after the briefing. “With each provocation, North Korea jeopardizes stability in Northeast Asia and poses a growing threat to our allies and the U.S. homeland.”

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that the current crisis with North Korea is the “worst [he’s] seen.”

“I’ll just say that I think the crisis on the Korea peninsula is real; it’s the worst I’ve seen,” Harris said.

Pressed on whether the U.S. plans to invade North Korea to stop it from completing an intercontinental ballistic missile program, Harris argued that taking any strategic option off the table would be a mistake.

“I believe the president has said all options are on the table,” Harris said.

Though the administration apparently will use military force if warranted, the admiral said a non-military solution remains the preferred outcome.

“It’s critical that we’re guided by a strong sense of resolve, both privately and publicly, both diplomatically and militarily. All options are on the table. We want to bring Kim Jong un to his senses, not to his knees,” he said.

Harris acknowledged that there is uncertainty within U.S. intelligence agencies over how far along North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are, but made clear that underestimating Pyongyang would be catastrophic.

“There is no doubt in my mind” that North Korea definitively has the ability to strike the U.S. mainland with a nuclear attack, the admiral warned.

Missile defense

U.S. ally South Korea revealed on Wednesday its progress on installing the primary parts of a U.S. missile defense system known as the Terminal High-Altitude Defense System, or THAAD.

Spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry Moon Sang-gyun said Thursday the system would soon go into “actual operation.”

“The positioning of some equipment means that South Korea and the U.S. have the capability to cope with North Korea’s provocations,” he said.

China, with whom the Trump administration hopes to partner eventually to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons, has no fondness for the THAAD system to close to its own borders.

“The real goal of the United States and South Korea in deploying THAAD is as a move in the game of the United States’ global antimissile defense system,” Maj. Gen. Cai Jun, a senior officer in the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission, said at a news briefing in Moscow on Thursday, according to the the Chinese Ministry of Defense. “This will further tighten the Asia-Pacific antimissile barrier enclosing China and Russia, and will weaken their strategic capacities – something we adamantly oppose.”

President Trump has been thus far successful in negotiating with Chinese President Xi Jinping to use his economic clout to influence Pyongyang.

New figures show that Chinese imports from North Korea fell 35 percent month-on-month in March, after Beijing suspended coal purchases to punish its nuclear-armed neighbor for missile tests, Yonhap reports.

President Trump reportedly told a reception of conservative journalists on Monday that Kim is likely not the strong leader he likes to portray himself as.

“I’m not so sure he’s so strong like he says he is, I’m not so sure at all,” Trump told the reception in comments confirmed to CNN by the White House.

The president’s observation is warranted. A military expert claims weapons wielded by North Korean troops at vast military parades are fake.

Not real

Michael Pregent, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, suggested in an interview with Fox News that many of the guns showcased in the Pyongyang April 15 parade were not real, and may have, in fact, been toys.

“This was more about sending a message than being combat effective,” explained Pregent, who now serves as an adjunct fellow at the conservative think-tank the Hudson Institute.

Pregent pointed out what appear to be silver-plated rifles held by some of the soldiers. He described the weaponry as so inaccurately embellished, it’s “laughable.”

“Saddam had gold-plated handguns, and even he wouldn’t give them to his troops, so these are most likely painted,” he said.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho reached out the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for assistance on Wednesday, in what is arguably a sign of weakness.

In a letter to the ASEAN’s secretary general, Ri Yong Ho warned the situation on the Korean Peninsula was “reaching the brink of war.”

“I express my expectations that ASEAN which attaches great importance to the regional peace and stability will make an issue of the US-South Korean joint military exercises at ASEAN conferences from the fair position and play an active role in safeguarding the peace and safety of Korean Peninsula,” the letter said.

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