North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador on Monday told the United Nations that the situation on the Korean Peninsula "has reached a touch-and-go-point and nuclear war may break out at any moment."
Speaking at a disarmament committee, Kim In Ryong said North Korea "supports the total elimination of nuclear weapons and the efforts for denuclearization of the entire world," but could could not sign the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty due to US threats.
Kim added that "no country in the world has been subjected to such an extreme and direct nuclear threat from the U.S. for such a long time."
He also warned that the U.S. was "within [North Korea's] firing range and if the US dares to invade our sacred territory even an inch it will not escape our severe punishment in any part of the globe."
Talks between the adversaries have long been urged by China in particular, but Washington and its ally Japan have been reluctant to sit down at the table while Pyongyang continues to pursue a goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CNN diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korea crisis "will continue until the first bomb drops."
The United States is not ruling out the eventual possibility of direct talks with North Korea, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said on Tuesday, hours after Pyongyang warned nuclear war might break out at any moment.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have escalated in recent months, with U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un engaging in a war of words and threatening mutual destruction. Pyongyang has carried out numerous ballistic missile and two nuclear tests over the past year, in violation of U.N. resolutions. Following its sixth nuclear test in September, the U.N. Security Council broadened the sanctions already in place against it.
South Korea and the United States began week-long joint Navy drills in the waters around the Korean peninsula on Monday, involving about 40 ships from both militaries, including the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, the South's defense ministry said.
The North's state media said yesterday the allies' "desperate efforts" to block the advance of the country would only vindicate that it should continue its nuclear program "to the last."
"The DPRK has been fully ready for all the U.S. is resorting to, including sanctions, pressure and military option, as it has the tremendous nuclear force for self-defence and irresistible strength of self-reliance and self-development," the official KCNA news agency said in a commentary.
Asked about the North Korean envoy's warning of nuclear war, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said it would not be in anyone's interest.
"China still hopes that all parties, in this situation where things on the Korean peninsula are highly complex and sensitive, can exercise restraint and do more to benefit the lowering of tensions in the region," Lu told a daily news briefing.
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs since 2006.
The most recent U.N. sanctions banned exports of coal, iron ore and seafood, aimed at cutting off a third of the North's total annual exports of $3 billion.
Experts say North Korea has been scrambling to find alternative sources of hard currency to keep its economy afloat and advance its weapons program.