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White House Rejects N. Korean Claim That Trump 'Declared War'

Ri Yong Ho said that Pyongyang would consider shooting down American bombers even if they were outside North Korean airspace.
Image: North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho leaves his hotel in New York
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho leaves his hotel in New York on Sept. 25, 2017.Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

North Korea's foreign minister said Monday that President Donald Trump has "declared war" on his country and that Kim Jong Un's regime would consider shooting down American bombers.

"Since the U.S. declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down the U.S. bombers even when they are not yet inside the airspace border of our country," Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters in New York.

"Last weekend, Trump claimed that our leadership wouldn't be around much longer and he declared a war on our country," he added. "Even the fact that this comes from someone who is currently holding the seat of the U.S. presidency is clearly a declaration of war."

The foreign minister appeared to be referring to a tweet that Trump sent Sunday, which referred to "Rocket Man" — the president's nickname for Kim.

The White House on Monday rejected the notion that the U.S. had declared war and ripped Pyongyang's talk of shooting down American planes.

"We have not declared war on North Korean, and frankly the suggestion of that is absurd," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a press briefing Monday.

She added that "it's never appropriate for a country to shoot down another country’s aircraft when" the planes are over international waters.

Kim and his officials are no stranger to fiery, war-like rhetoric, often threatening to immolate the U.S. in "a sea of fire" and to reduce "the whole of the U.S. mainland to ruins."

Since assuming office, Trump has also joined in with bold language of his own, warning North Korea that he could visit "fire" and "fury" on the authoritarian regime if it threatened the U.S.

Related: What Would Happen if N. Korea Tested an H-Bomb Over the Pacific?

Many analysts agree that while the North’s apocalyptic statements may sound crazy, the country is actually building its missile and nuclear program according to a rational set of goals.

Key among its aims is self-preservation. It saw that leaders in Iraq and Libya fell to Western-backed regime change after they gave up their nuclear programs, and Kim has vowed not to suffer a similar fate.

Despite months of fierce words, a military solution to the standoff would result in a conflict that some North Korea-watchers predict could cause more than a million deaths.

Pyongyang conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test earlier this month and has threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

Even without nuclear weapons, North Korea has plenty of conventional weapons pointed at South Korea and its capital, Seoul, which is just 30 miles from the border.

Related: They Fled North Korea for London but Are Paying a Heavy Price

North Korea has said in public statements that it wants an official end to the Korean War. The conflict was halted by a 1953 armistice but no peace treaty has been signed. It also wants nothing short of full normalization of relations with the U.S. and to be treated with respect and as an equal in the global arena.

Ri made his remarks Monday near the United Nations headquarters in New York, where he attended last week’s General Assembly.

After leaving the crowd of reporters in the street, he walked back moments later and added: "In light of the declaration of war by Trump, all options will be on the operations table of the supreme leadership."