President Donald Trump added economic action to his fiery military threats against North Korea on Thursday, authorizing stiffer new sanctions in response to the Koreans' nuclear weapons advances. Its leader Kim Jong Un issued a rare statement, branding Trump as "deranged" and warning he will "pay dearly" for his threat to "totally destroy" the North if it attacks.
The exchange of super-heated rhetoric and unusually personal abuse between the adversaries will escalate tensions that have been mounting as North Korea has marched closer to achieving a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America. The crisis has dominated the Trump's debut at this week's annual U.N. General Assembly meeting.
Kim's statement, carried by North Korea's official news agency in a dispatch from Pyongyang early Friday, responded to Trump's combative speech days earlier where he not only issued the warning of potential obliteration for the isolated nation, but also mocked the North's young autocrat as a "Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission."
Kim offered choice insults of his own.
He said Trump was "unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country." He described the president as "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire." He characterized Trump's speech to the world body on Tuesday as "mentally deranged behavior."
"I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK," said the statement carried by Korean Central News Agency.
DPRK is the abbreviation of the communist country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
There was no immediate response from the White House.
On Thursday in New York, Trump announced the latest steps to punish foreign companies that deal with the North. It was the latest salvo in a U.S.-led campaign to isolate and impoverish Kim's government until it halts the missile and nuclear tests. He announced the measures as he met leaders from South Korea and Japan, the nations most immediately imperiled by North Korea's threats of a military strike.
"North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile development is a grave threat to peace and security in our world and it is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal, rogue regime," Trump said as he joined Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in for lunch. "Tolerance for this disgraceful practice must end now."
His executive order expanded the Treasury Department's ability to target anyone conducting significant trade in goods, services or technology with North Korea, and to ban them from interacting with the U.S. financial system.
"Foreign financial institutions must choose between doing business with the United States or facilitating trade with North Korea or its designated supporters," the order says. It also issues a 180-day ban on vessels and aircraft that have visited North Korea from visiting the United States.
Trump also said China was imposing major banking sanctions, too, but there was no immediate confirmation from the North's most important trading partner. China's central bank would not take questions by phone Friday and did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
Trump praised China for instructing its banks to cut off business with Pyongyang, but neither the Chinese nor Trump officials were ready to say so. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he had spoken at length Thursday with the head of China's central bank but "I am not going to comment on confidential discussions."
If enforced, the Chinese action Trump described could severely impede the isolated North's ability to raise money for its missile and nuclear development. China, responsible for about 90 percent of North Korea's trade, serves as the country's conduit to the international banking system.
Trump said the China action he described "was a somewhat unexpected move and we appreciate it."
China remains leery of pressuring North Korea into collapse and has resisted cutting off its critical oil supplies, not wanting chaos on its border. Along with Russia, China wants the U.S. to seek dialogue with the North. American officials say the time isn't right for any formal diplomatic process. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday that negotiations are the "only way out" of the nuclear standoff.
Several news outlets this month have reported Chinese steps to restrict banking transactions, but the government hasn't made a formal announcement. Asked for comment last week, the Foreign Ministry said China has always fully implemented U.N. sanctions on North Korea but opposes "unilateral" restrictions imposed by another country on Chinese entities. China's embassy in Washington declined to comment Thursday.
The focus on economic measures by Washington had at least temporarily shifted focus from the talk of military action that has caused unease, even among U.S. allies. In his speech to the U.N. on Tuesday, Trump spoke of his own nation's patience, but said that if "forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."
Trump's messengers backed him up in television appearances Thursday. Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News: "We do not desire a military conflict. But the president has made it very clear, as he did at the U.N. this week, that all options are on the table and we are simply not going to tolerate a rogue regime in Pyongyang obtaining usable nuclear weapons that could be mounted on a ballistic missile and threaten the people of the United States or our allies."
Trump's heated language was rare for a U.S. president at the rostrum of the United Nations. But the speech was textbook Trump, dividing the globe into friends and foes and taking unflinching aim at America's enemies.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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