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SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea warned Sunday that the United States will face a "very serious situation" and said President Joe Biden "made a big mistake" in a recent speech in which he called North Korea a security threat.
In his first address to Congress last week, Biden called North Korea's and Iran's nuclear programs "grave threats" to U.S. and global security, and said he would work with allies to address those problems through diplomacy and strong deterrence.
"His statement clearly reflects his intention to continue to pursue a hostile policy toward the DPRK, as the U.S. has done for more than half a century," Kwon Jong-gun, a senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official, said in a statement. The acronym DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.
"There is no doubt that the head of the U.S. administration made a big mistake in light of the current viewpoint," Kwon said. "Now that the essence of the new U.S. policy on the DPRK has become clear, we will have to push for appropriate measures, and eventually the U.S. will find itself in a very difficult situation."
Kwon did not specify what steps North Korea would take, and his statement could be seen as an attempt to pressure the Biden administration in crafting its North Korea policy.
Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Sunday that U.S. policy "is not one of hostility, but of solutions" and of "ultimately achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
"And we are willing to undertake diplomacy to achieve that ultimate goal, but to work on practical steps that can help us move toward that goal," Sullivan said on ABC's "This Week."
The White House said Friday that administration officials have completed a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea. Biden plans to move away from the approaches of his last two predecessors in an effort to stop North Korea's nuclear program. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not elaborate on the review, but suggested that the administration would seek a middle ground between Donald Trump's "grand bargain" and Barack Obama's "strategic tolerance" approaches.
Kwon's statement did not mention Psaki's comments.
After a series of high-profile nuclear and missile tests in 2016-17, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un initiated high-level diplomacy with Trump over the future of his growing nuclear arsenal. But that diplomacy has stalled for about two years due to disagreements over how much sanctions relief North Korea could get in exchange for limited steps toward denuclearization.
In January, Kim threatened to increase his nuclear arsenal and build more high-tech weapons aimed at the U.S. mainland, saying the fate of the bilateral relationship would depend on whether he abandoned his hostile policy. In March, it tested short-range ballistic missiles for the first time in a year, although it continues to maintain a moratorium on launching larger weapons.
"If Pyongyang agrees to working-level talks, the starting point for talks would be a freeze on testing and development of North Korea's nuclear capabilities and delivery systems," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. "If, on the other hand, Kim shuns diplomacy and opts for provocative tests, Washington is likely to expand the use of sanctions and military exercises with its allies."
Also on Sunday, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry official promised a separate, forceful response to the State Department's recent statement that it would seek to "hold the Kim regime accountable" for the "appalling human rights situation." He called the statement preparation for an "all-out confrontation with us."
Kim's influential sister, Kim Yo-jong, also lashed out at South Korea over anti-Pyongyang leaflets distributed at the border by a group of North Korean defectors in the South. The group's leader, Park Sang-hak, said Friday that he sent out 500,000 balloon leaflets last week, contrary to a controversial new South Korean law that criminalizes such actions.
"We regard the maneuvers carried out by human waste in the South as a serious provocation against our state and will consider corresponding actions," Kim Yo-jeong said in a statement.
He accused the South Korean government of "winking" at the fliers. Seoul's Unification Ministry responded later Sunday, saying it opposes any action that creates tension on the Korean Peninsula and will seek to improve relations with North Korea.
Easley said the North Korean statements by Kwon and Kim Yo-jong show that "Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States" ahead of the May 21 summit between Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.