At U.N. and in the Air, North Korea and U.S. Trade Tough Messages

Referring to Mr. Trump’s threat — in his General Assembly address on Tuesday — to “totally destroy” North Korea, Mr. Ri said the American president had “committed an irreversible mistake.”

“None other than Trump himself is on a suicide mission,” he added.

But Mr. Ri also said the North’s nuclear program was a deterrent intended to avert an invasion, with the ultimate goal being “balance of power with the U.S.”

“We do not have any intention at all to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the countries that do not join in the U.S. military actions against” North Korea, Mr. Ri said.

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Listening to a statement by Mr. Kim on a public screen in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Friday.

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Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Over the years, as Pyongyang raced to build a nuclear arsenal, the world has often turned to its neighbors for help: China, because of its economic leverage over the North, and South Korea, because it would suffer the most in any military confrontation.

Now, China and South Korea have been left squirming on the sidelines, with Mr. Kim having been essentially granted his wish: dealing directly with the United States, which the North believes has the most to give.

To the North Koreans, the United States can offer a peace treaty, diplomatic recognition, the easing of sanctions and the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea, which the North considers its existential threat.

Since Mr. Kim came to power nearly six years ago, North Korea has accelerated its nuclear and missile tests to grab Washington’s attention and to force negotiations on terms favorable to the North, according to South Korean intelligence officials and analysts who study Mr. Kim’s motives.

When Mr. Trump made his threat on Tuesday it gave Mr. Kim a perfect chance to square off directly against the United States, they said. In an unprecedented personal statement on Friday, Mr. Kim called Mr. Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and Mr. Ri raised the prospect of exploding a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

To back up such talk, Mr. Kim will probably carry out more weapons tests, analysts said.

A tremor detected Saturday near North Korea’s underground nuclear-testing site raised fears of another detonation, but South Korean experts said it appeared to have been a natural…

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