North Korea and America are engaging in a dangerous game of brinkmanship that could spiral out of control Russia warned yesterday (Friday) as Kim Jong-un said he would "settle accounts" with Washington for threatening him with nuclear-capable stealth bombers.
"We are opposed to any steps from any side that increase tensions," said Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.
He suggested that the situation on the Korean peninsula was being inflamed not only by the warmongering of Pyongyang, but also by the shows of military strength mounted in recent weeks by America and South Korea. On Thursday, two B2 stealth bombers flew over the Korean peninsula, a move that demonstrated, according to the Pentagon, that America was capable of conducting "long-range precision strikes quickly and at will".
In response, Kim Jong-un yesterday threatened once again to "press the red button" and was pictured in a war room with maps in the background plotting the trajectories of missiles targeting American cities.
A few hours after his latest call to arms, thousands of North Koreans rallied in the main square in Pyongyang, chanting "Death to the US imperialists" and "Sweep away the US aggressors", according to The Associated Press, which has a bureau in Pyongyang.
"We are concerned that alongside an adequate reaction from the Security Council and the collective reaction from the international community, there are unilateral steps being taken around North Korea that manifest themselves in a build-up of military activity," said Lavrov.
"We may simply let the situation slip out of our control and it will slide into a vicious circle spiral," he warned.
South Korea said yesterday that it had detected increased activity in various North Korean military units. "We believe they are taking follow-up steps," said Kim Min-seek, a Defence ministry spokesman.
"South Korean and American intelligence authorities are closely watching whether North Korea is preparing its short, medium, and long-range missiles, including its Scud, Rodong and Musudan."
However, he acknowledged that much of the rhetoric from Kim Jong-un was "psychological" posturing. Russia also said it would judge the situation on the "specific" actions of the various sides and not on the sabre-rattling from Pyongyang and Washington.
Hugo Swire, the British Foreign Office minister, suggested that despite the bellicose rhetoric, the situation in North Korea was stabilising. "In terms of military build-up and so on, it seems we are through the worst," he said. "The regime is very unpredictable, but it seems we are coming down from the heights of the past few weeks".
Meanwhile, a senior North Korean tourism official has reassured Chinese tour operators that the country is not on the brink of war. Kim To-jun reportedly said: "Do not worry. There will be no war on the Korean peninsula, so send as many tourists as possible."
Air Koryo, the country's airline, will begin flying from Beijing to Pyongyang five days a week in April and has invested in new planes. "We have not had any disruption to our tours," said Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours.
"They have been able to go to all the places they planned to go. It is business as usual. We are seeing a disconnect between our business and the macro political things that are going on.
"Our next tour group is going in on April 4."
Bush in the crosshairs?
It is 12 years since George W Bush named North Korea as part of the "Axis of Evil", yet Kim Jong-un still appears to bear a grudge.
A map detailing Kim's "US Mainland Strike Plan", which was visible in a photograph released yesterday (Friday), indicated that Bush's home state of Texas was in North Korea's sights.
Three other US targets appeared to have clear strategic value: Washington, DC, America's capital; California, its most populous state; and Hawaii, a key US military outpost in the Pacific.
Yet Texans reacted with bemusement upon learning that they, too, appeared to be in the line of Pyongyang's fire. "Was it me?" asked Karl Rove, Bush's former aide and fellow Texan.
The former president, pictured with his father George HW Bush, splits his time between a town house in Dallas and a ranch in Crawford, the location of which appeared closest to Kim's projected missile path. Some Texans, however, suggested the path in fact led 95 miles south to Austin, the state's capital, prompting speculation that Kim had taken against the liberal enclave's young "hipster" population. Kirk Watson, a state senator and former mayor of the city, described Kim's threat as "the ultimate Austin-bashing legislation". After Kim was also pictured working at an Apple iMac computer, one local resident also suggested that as the "ultimate Apple fanboy", he planned to "nuke Dell", the PC giant, which is located nearby.
Questions were raised over how Kim had obtained the computer, given that America has a trade embargo with North Korea. Apple warns buyers on its website that the export of its products to North Korea is "strictly prohibited.