US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan meets Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama at the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Iikura guest house in Tokyo on October 17 2017. Picture: REUTERS
US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan meets Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama at the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Iikura guest house in Tokyo on October 17 2017. Picture: REUTERS

Tokyo/New York — The US is not ruling out the eventual possibility of direct talks with North Korea, Deputy Secretary of State John J Sullivan said on Tuesday, hours after Pyongyang warned nuclear war might break out at any moment.

Talks between the adversaries have long been urged by China in particular, but Washington and its ally Japan have been reluctant to sit down at the table while Pyongyang continues to pursue a goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US.

"Eventually, we don’t rule out the possibility of course of direct talks," Sullivan said in Tokyo after talks with his Japanese counterpart.

"Our focus is on diplomacy to solve this problem that is presented by the DPRK. We must, however, with our allies, Japan and South Korea and elsewhere, be prepared for the worst should diplomacy fail," he said.

An anti-Trump leaflet believed to come from North Korea by balloon is pictured in this undated handout photo released by NK News on October 16 2017. The Korean text reads,
An anti-Trump leaflet believed to come from North Korea by balloon is pictured in this undated handout photo released by NK News on October 16 2017. The Korean text reads, "For the peaceful world without war and for the future of mankind" (top), and "Butcher a mad dog Trump!" Picture: NK NEWS VIA REUTERS

Tension has soared following a series of weapons tests by North Korea and a string of increasingly bellicose exchanges between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Leaflets apparently from North Korea calling Trump a "mad dog" and depicting gruesome images of him have turned up across central Seoul in recent days, adding an unusually personal element to North Korean propaganda.

"The situation on the Korean peninsula where the attention of the whole world is focused has reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment," North Korea’s Deputy UN ambassador, Kim In-ryong, told a UN General Assembly committee on Monday.

"As long as one does not take part in the US military actions against the DPRK (North Korea), we have no intention to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any other country," according to Kim’s prepared remarks for the discussion on nuclear weapons.

Kim did not read that section out loud.

The UN Security Council has unanimously ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since 2006.

The most recent UN sanctions banned exports of coal, iron ore and seafood, aimed at cutting off one-third of North Korea’s total annual exports of $3bn.

Experts say North Korea has been scrambling to find alternative sources of hard currency to keep its economy afloat and to advance its weapons programme further.

North Korea’s Lazarus hacking group was probably responsible for a recent cyber heist in Taiwan, cyber-security firm BAE Systems said on Monday.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported last week that while hackers sought to steal about $60m from the Far Eastern Bank, all but $500,000 had been recovered by the bank.

BAE Systems and other cyber firms have previously linked Lazarus to last year’s $81m cyber heist at Bangladesh’s central bank.

North Korea also recently allowed citizens as young as 12 to bet on local horse races for the first time, state news agency KCNA reported.

Punters had previously risked three years’ hard labour for gambling in the tightly controlled state, but the growing importance of private markets meant more people had money to spend on leisure, experts said.

"You may have ridiculed Kim Jong-un for constructing lavish facilities while struggling to feed the people, but those things are to make foreign currency, not from foreigners but from the well-offs inside North Korea because you have to pay in US dollars or Chinese renminbi there," said Lee Sang-keun, a researcher at the Institute of Unification Studies of Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

"Many North Koreans make lots of money from the market, dine at hamburger restaurants and go shopping, all of which help fatten regime coffers. That’s part of the reason why the regime still has some financial latitude despite international sanctions."

Reuters

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