North Korea calls US Vice-President Pence ‘stupid’

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Vice-President Mike Pence in Washington, DC. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mike Pence – a ‘political dummy’ says North Korea

A senior North Korean official has accused US Vice-President Mike Pence of being “stupid” and warned of possible “nuclear showdown” if diplomacy fails.

Choe Son-hui said Pyongyang would not “beg the US for dialogue” nor try to persuade them to attend talks.

In recent days, both sides have warned that the 12 June Trump-Kim meeting could be delayed or even called off.

Pyongyang said it would reconsider going if the US insisted on it giving up nuclear weapons unilaterally.

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that it was the North that had to meet the conditions for the talks to go ahead.

Pence a ‘political dummy’

Choe Son-hui has been involved in several diplomatic interactions with the US over the past decade.

In an article carried by state news agency KCNA, she said Mr Pence had made “unbridled and impudent remarks” in the media in recent days, including his comments that North Korea “may end like Libya”.

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Media captionViewpoint: Is Trump playing into Kim Jong-un’s hands?

She called him a “political dummy” for comparing North Korea “a nuclear weapon state, to Libya that had simply installed a few items of equipment and fiddled around with them”.

“As a person involved in US affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing from the mouth of the US Vice President,” she said.

Ms Choe said Pyongyang was “not begging for talks” and warned: “Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behaviour of the United States.”

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Media captionWhy North Korea is angry at this man

US National Security Adviser John Bolton also angered North Korea last week by saying it could follow a “Libya model” of verifiable denuclearisation.

That led to North Korea’s vice-foreign minister threatening to pull out of the Trump-Kim summit.

‘Careful diplomacy requires careful messaging’

Analysis from Laura Bicker, BBC News, Seoul

So we are back to name calling and threats of nuclear war – just weeks before the planned summit.

The messenger is a powerful figure in North Korean politics. She’s one of Kim Jong-un’s top aides, so this statement will have been sanctioned by the chairman himself.

Some may say this is a typical Pyongyang power play. But it was also so avoidable.

North Korea had made it clear last week that mentioning the Libyan model of denuclearisation touched a nerve. Firstly because the Gaddafi regime collapsed and he was killed, but also because the North believe its weapons programme is far more advanced than Libya’s ever was.

So to even mention the two countries in the same context will be a grave insult and Pyongyang may feel that Washington is not showing it the respect it deserves.

The US had been warned, and yet Mr Pence decided to repeat the comparison anyway. Careful diplomacy requires careful messaging and careful language, and North Korea clearly feels the Trump administration has shown a lack of discipline in this regard.

It is interesting that Pyongyang decided not to target Donald Trump who also made similar remarks. Aiming the insults at those around the president rather than Mr Trump himself may suggest North Korea is not ready to throw away the prospect of a summit quite yet.

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