WASHINGTON — US bombers flew off the east coast of North Korea Saturday in a show of force designed to project American military power in the face of Pyongyang’s weapons programs, escalating already sky-high tensions.
The flight came after days of increasingly bellicose rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime, as international alarm mounts over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
Minutes after the military show of force was announced, North Korea’s foreign minister assailed US President Donald Trump at the opening of his address to the United Nations, calling him a “mentally deranged person full of megalomania.”
Ri Yong-ho told the National Assembly that Trump’s threats to “totally destroy” his country had made “our rockets’ visit to the entire US mainland inevitable all the more.”
US bombers have carried out similar show of force flights as the United States and the international community struggle to rein in North Korea’s weapons programs.
But this was the furthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any US fighter or bomber aircraft has flown off North Korea’s coast in this century, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said.
“This mission is a demonstration of US resolve and a clear message that the President has many military options to defeat any threat,” White said.
“We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the US homeland and our allies.”
The Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers used Saturday are based in Guam, and were accompanied by F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan, White said.
A shallow 3.5-magnitude earthquake that hit North Korea near its nuclear test site Saturday was likely an aftershock from the hermit state’s latest nuclear test on September 3, a nuclear test ban watchdog and other experts said.
The bomber flight and quake came at the end of a week that saw a blistering war of words between Kim and Trump, with the US leader using his maiden speech at the United Nations General Assembly to warn that Washington would “totally destroy” the North if America or its allies were threatened.
The North, which says it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself against the threat of a US invasion, responded on Friday with a rare personal rebuke from Kim, who called Trump “mentally deranged” and threatened the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”
On Saturday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho continued in a similar manner, telling the General Assembly that Trump’s vow to “totally destroy” his country had made “our rockets’ visit to the entire US mainland all the more inevitable.”
Describing Trump as a “mentally deranged person full of megalomania,” Ri said the US leader who “holds the nuclear button” posed “the gravest threat to international peace and security today.”
In his first address to the General Assembly, Trump called leader Kim Jong-Un “Rocket Man” on a “suicide mission,” prompting Kim to warn in turn that the US president would “pay dearly” for his threat.
Ri accused Trump of turning the United Nations into a “gangsters’ nest where money is respected and bloodshed is the order of the day,” and of insulting Kim.
North Korea in recent weeks detonated its sixth nuclear bomb and has test-fired intercontinental missiles — saying it needs to defend itself against hostility from the United States and its allies.
The United States led a push at the United Nations for tough sanctions that were adopted on September 11, and has imposed unilateral measures to punish firms that do business with North Korea.
Calling the resolutions unjustified, Ri said that Pyongyang was left with no other choice but to respond with the “nuclear hammer of justice.”