Experts downplay North Korea ambassador comments

Key Points
  • North Korea's ambassador to the U.K. told Sky News on Tuesday that the communist state is "ready to turn to ashes" U.S. strategic assets.
  • Three U.S.-based experts on North Korea told CNBC they didn't think much of the threat.
  • At least two of North Korea's missile tests in the last several weeks failed
North Korean military participates in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on October 12, 2015.
KCNA | Reuters

Three experts downplayed a threat Tuesday from North Korea's ambassador to the U.K. of another nuclear test by the isolated nation and the destruction of U.S. strategic assets.

"I could be wrong, but this doesn't feel like an escalation to me," said Isaac Stone Fish, senior fellow, Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations.

In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday, Ambassador Choe Il said North Korea is ready to conduct a sixth nuclear test at the bidding of dictator Kim Jong Un.

"The U.S. cannot attack us first," the ambassador said in an interview with Sky News on Tuesday. "If the U.S. moves an inch, then we are ready to turn to ashes any available strategic assets of the U.S."


The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.

Analysts pointed out that North Korea has repeatedly threatened many attacks on the U.S. without following through. Many have expected the sixth nuclear test for the last few months.
Each nuclear test gives North Korea a chance to further develop its weapons program. At least two of North Korea's missile tests in the last several weeks failed.

"First of all because North Korea really doesn't have a way of attacking the U.S. directly other than maybe special forces, teams, that's clearly an exaggeration," said Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at Rand Corp. "They may be able to cause some damage within the [Asian] region."

The late-afternoon report sent U.S. stocks to session lows, but the major averages recovered to end narrowly mixed.

Tensions around the North Korean nuclear threat have escalated in the last several months. President Donald Trump has made the issue a foreign policy priority and used trade deals to encourage Chinese President Xi Jinping to put pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program.

Scott Seaman of Eurasia Group agreed that the ambassador's comments were not new. But he noted that the threat "will likely set Beijing and Washington on edge, and prompt Trump to ask Xi Jinping once again to pressure Pyongyang."

The majority of North Korea's trade is with China, giving Beijing economic leverage over Kim. China suspended coal imports from North Korea for the year.

Adding more complexity to the tense situation, South Korea on Tuesday elected as president liberal Moon Jae-in, who has supported a more conciliatory approach to North Korea.

China gets a rare rebuke from North Korea for its 'betrayal'