The North Korean confrontation could escalate, and Australia is within range of any intercontinental ballistic missiles, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop says.
Speaking to Fairfax Media on Wednesday, Ms Bishop noted that while the current sabre-rattling by North Korea and the United States could “ramp up”, Australia was not a primary target for the rogue state.
“We are not a primary target but we have a deep interest in seeing this resolved,” Ms Bishop told Fairfax.
“It’s evident that it could ramp up into a more serious conflict.”
Ms Bishop was speaking as North Korea warned that a missile strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam could be launched “at any moment”, threatening to create an “enveloping fire” around the territory.
The threat came just hours after President Donald Trump made an extraordinary threat that the hermit state would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr Trump said for one of his golf clubs in New Jersey.
Aa spokesman from the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army released a statement saying a strike plan to target Guam would be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment”, once leader Kim Jong-un made a decision.
In another statement, citing a different military spokesman, North Korea also said it could carry out a pre-emptive operation if the US showed signs of provocation.
— Sangwon Yoon (@sangwonyoon) August 8, 2017
Guam is a key strategic military base for the US and is home to thousands of American service members and their families.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” President Trump earlier told media during a White House meeting Wednesday morning [AEST].
“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. They will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power the likes of which the world has never seen before,” he said.
His blunt warning came as US and Japanese intelligence analysts said North Korea has produced a nuclear warhead capable of fitting inside its missiles.
— David Wade (@davidwade) August 8, 2017
The US Pacific Air Forces tweeted out a message stating they’ve joined their counterparts from South Korea and Japan in bilateral exercises.
The US decision to fly two B1B bombers over the Korean peninsula on Monday may have been the main provocation for Pyongyang’s threat to Guam.
The North Korean statement Wednesday specifically mentioned a potential strike on “Anderson Air Force Base in which the US strategic bombers, which get on the nerves of the DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above South Korea, are stationed and to send a serious warning signal to the US”.
The UN Security Council this weekend imposed its toughest ever sanctions on North Korea over its latest test of a ballistic missile that could be used to deliver a nuclear weapon.
— PACAF (@PACAF) August 8, 2017
Despite the rapid tempo of these tests, uncertainty has lingered over the isolated nation’s ability to couple such a missile with a nuclear device.
Those uncertainties appear to be receding after Japan’s Defence Ministry concluded in an annual white paper released Tuesday night that “it is possible that North Korea has achieved the miniaturisation of nuclear weapons and has developed nuclear warheads”.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday morning (AEST) that US intelligence officials assess that a decade after North Korea’s first nuclear test explosion, Pyongyang has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, including by intercontinental missiles – the type capable of reaching the continental United States.
The Post story, citing unnamed US intelligence officials, said the confidential analysis was completed last month by the US Defence Intelligence Agency. It is not clear if the assessment is shared across the intelligence community.
The report said it is not known if North Korea has successfully tested the smaller design.
The US calculated last month that North Korea has up to 60 nuclear weapons, the Post said, more than double most assessments by independent experts.
Alarm in Washington over the North Korean leader’s pursuit of nuclear capability has intensified in the past month, after the North conducted two tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles for the first time in July.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has called new sanctions on North Korea “a gut punch” and warned of possible military action should the regime continue its aggressive actions.
Military options include launching a “preventative war” against North Korea, White House national security adviser General H.R. McMaster has said.
“If they had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it’s intolerable from the President’s perspective,” General McMaster told US media on Saturday.
– with agencies