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White House rejects N. Korean claim that Trump 'declared war'

This picture taken on September 23, 2017 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 24 shows an anti-US rally in Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang. Photo: AFP

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

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

At the weekend, the US sent bombers and fighter escorts flying closer to the border between North and South Korea than at anytime this century in a show of force designed to display America's military resolve at a time of soaring tensions between the US and Pyongyang.

"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 US presidency is clearly a declaration of war."

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

The White House on Monday rejected the notion that the US 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 on 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.

Cabinet officials, particularly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have insisted the US-led campaign diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea is focused on eliminating the pariah state's nuclear weapons program, not its totalitarian government.

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

Trump on Tuesday said the US would have "no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" if it is forced to defend itself or its allies. The president and his top advisors have repeatedly said they could take military action in response to a string of missile tests, but prefer a diplomatic resolution.

On Thursday, Trump signed an executive order expanding his authority to target people and institutions that do business with North Korea. He hopes the measure will help to cut off Pyongyang's funding sources for its nuclear and missile programs.

Reacting to remarks by North Korea's foreign minister on Monday, China's UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi told Reuters the escalating rhetoric between North Korea and the US was getting too dangerous and the only solution was negotiations.

"We want things to calm down. It's getting too dangerous and it's in nobody's interest," Liu told Reuters. "We certainly hope that (the US and North Korea) will see that there is no other way than negotiations to solve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula ... The alternative is a disaster."

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