NEW YORK — North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s threat to destroy his country sounded like “a dog barking.”
“If he was thinking he could scare us with the sound of a dog barking, that’s really a dog dream,” Ri, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, told reporters in front of his hotel in New York.
In Korean, a dog dream is one that is absurd and makes little sense.
Though Trump’s speeches typically employ colorful rhetoric, threatening another country with destruction was unprecedented for a U.S. president and took diplomats aback.
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said in the Tuesday speech.
“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life … no nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with a nuclear weapon and missiles,” said Trump.
Trump also said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — who he referred to as “rocket man” — is “on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
It’s the second time Trump has referred to Kim by the new nickname, which is likely a play on the eponymous Elton John song and the numerous missile tests Kim has overseen. The first was in a tweet Sunday.
When asked about the new nickname for North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Ri said of Trump “I feel sorry for his aides.”
North Korean diplomats were not present during Trump’s speech.
With Ri and his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, both in New York, the U.N. General Assembly provides a rare chance for high-level, face-to-face dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, as the two countries do not maintain formal diplomatic relations.
Tillerson, for his part, played down the possibility of a meeting, telling reporters he did not believe he could have a “matter-of-fact discussion with North Korea because we don’t know how their means of communication and behavior will be.”
No high-level bilateral talks between North Korea and the United States have been announced.
“To have such a senior official who has close ties to the leadership in proximity, it does represent an opportunity if anyone wants to take that opportunity,” said Joel S. Wit, a North Korea expert and former State Department official who met Ri when before he became foreign minister.
“A meeting can also be used to send a direct, tough message to the North Korean leadership about what the United States thinks and what it wants North Korea to do,” Wit said.
The secretary of state also hinted that the current pressure campaign against North Korea is starting to bear fruit. He said there is evidence of fuel shortages in the country following the passage of recent U.N. sanctions, which targeted oil imports among other things.
However, it’s unclear if that would actually prove the efficacy of the measures — most North Koreans don’t own cars or use fuel at anywhere near the rate the rest of the world does, analysts say.
And sanctions almost never hit that fast, says Anthony Ruggiero, an expert in the use of targeted financial measures at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
If there are actually lines for fuel, “it’s probably more due to the regime stockpiling fuel in anticipation that China would implement the restriction,” Ruggiero, who worked at both the State Department and Treasury Department, told CNN.
Sanctions are a key part of the Trump administration’s strategy on North Korea: marshaling a global coalition to mount enough pressure on North Korea so that it will put its nuclear weapons on the negotiating table.
Trump is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in Thursday, two important US allies on North Korea’s doorstop.
Trump also spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the issue in a phone call Monday, according to a White House statement.
Accounting for about 90% of North Korea’s imports, Beijing is seen by many as the key to any North Korea strategy.
While China did vote in favor of the two most recent U.N. resolutions against North Korea, Chinese diplomats have called for calm as Trump’s rhetoric has heated up, and editorials in Chinese state media have continued to assail the U.S. president’s approach to diplomacy.
“It is time for the U.S. to realize that irresponsible words and actions are backing the DPRK into a corner with no way out, and it would be a tragedy if Trump’s risky game of chicken with the DPRK crosses the point of no return,” read an editorial published Thursday in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. “Rather than hurl threats and try to pass the buck to China, the U.S. should accept its responsibility, and do more to resolve the issue through dialogue and negotiation.”