NK official
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during a test-launch of ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic rocket Hwasong-10 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) June 23, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

North Korea is now a nuclear threat to be reckoned with, the country’s top official for U.S. affairs told the Associated Press Friday.

Han Song Ryol, director-general of the department of U.S. affairs at North Korea's Foreign Ministry, said that Washington can expect more nuclear tests and missile launches, like those earlier this week, if the U.S. continues in its attempts to weaken the North Korean government through its policy of pressure and punishment. This was his first interview with an American news organization since assuming his post three years ago.

“It’s the United States that caused this issue,” he said, “They have to stop their military threats, sanctions and economic pressure. Without doing so, it's like they are telling us to reconcile while they are putting a gun to our forehead.”

On Wednesday, North Korea test-launched two medium-range ballistic missiles. These tests, condemned by Washington, Tokyo and Seoul as a violation of the United Nations resolutions, reportedly show the country’s advances in its missile capabilities.

“These provocations only serve to increase the international community's resolve to counter the DPRK’s prohibited activities, including through implementing existing U.N. Security Council sanctions,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said, “We intend to raise our concerns at the U.N. to bolster the international resolve in holding the DPRK accountable for these provocative actions.”

But Han dismissed the criticism, adding that his country had no choice but to build up its military deterrent as long as the U.S. remains an enemy. Han said, “The real provocation is coming from the United States… How can my country stand by and do nothing?”

The U.S. recently deployed nuclear-powered submarines and strategic bombers capable of dropping nuclear weapons on North Korea, and earlier this year conducted training for precision airstrikes on North Korea's leadership with the South Korean military during joint annual exercises, he said.

“My country is a nuclear state. In the past, my country has been threatened by the United States with its nuclear weapons, but I can now say proudly that the United States is being threatened by my country's nuclear weapons,” Han said.

He said that there was a possibility of dialogue with the United States, but only on the condition that Washington agrees to “drop its hostile policies” and replace the armistice that ended the Korean War with a lasting peace treaty. He added that for a dialogue to take place, the U.S. also has to withdraw its troops from South Korea.

Han said that he doesn’t think a new president can make much of a difference. According to him, North Korea will be focusing on the new administration but doesn’t see any major policy change in the offing.