North Korea hits new level of brinkmanship in reacting to Trump

Kim Jong Un turned the standoff with the U.S. into a personal duel, while warning of more dangerous weapons tests.

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has long cultivated an image of defiant belligerence, punctuating its propaganda and diplomacy with colorful threats, insults and bluster. But by addressing President Donald Trump in a personal statement Friday, the nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has pushed his government’s brinkmanship to a new, potentially more perilous level.

In a statement written in the first person, published on the front pages of state newspapers and read on national television, Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” who had “denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world.”

Kim vowed to take the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”

In a country where the leader is essentially portrayed as a god, Kim’s decision to respond personally to Trump’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly and pledge reprisals escalated the standoff over the North’s nuclear program in a way that neither he nor his predecessors had done before.

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Though the statement made no mention of nuclear weapons, in the context of a political system built on a cult of personality, Kim’s intervention appeared to sharply reduce the possibility that his government might retreat or compromise, even in the face of war.

Kim condemned Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea if the United States is forced to defend itself, and he declared that it had “convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.”

Shortly after Kim’s statement was released, his foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, delivered prepared remarks in New York, saying it was up to Kim to decide what to do, but that North Korea might conduct the “biggest-ever hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific.”

Ri could not have made such an alarming comment without approval from Kim, although some analysts question whether North Korea has the technology or political daring to conduct an atmospheric nuclear test, something the world has not seen for decades.

Trump responded Friday by further personalizing the dispute. On Twitter, the president pronounced Kim to be “obviously a madman.”

Making it personal

North Korea has often issued…

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