SEOUL - Just hours after heavy fog foiled an unscheduled visit to the heavily-fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ), US president Donald Trump warned the Kim Jong Un regime against "fatal miscalculation" and urged Pyongyang to embrace a "much better future" by abandoning its nuclear and missile programme.
In a message directed at the North Korean leader, Mr Trump said: "Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face."
He was addressing the National Assembly on Wednesday (Nov 8) morning as part of his 24-hour state visit to South Korea.
"North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned. It is a hell that no person deserves. We will offer a path towards a much better future. It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to your development of ballistic missiles and complete, verifiable, and total denuclearisation."
North Korea's nuclear crisis has dominated Mr Trump's 12-day Asia tour that began in Japan on Sunday (Nov 5). The North Korean regime has raised tensions in recent months by lobbing missiles across Japan and conducting its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September.
In a 30-minute speech that ended with a standing ovation, Mr Trump also called on all nations including China and Russia to confront the North Korean problem together, urging them to implement United Nations sanctions, downgrade diplomatic ties and sever all trade with the North.
"The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation. All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea, to deny it any form of support, supply, or acceptance."
“The longer we wait, the greater the danger grows, and the fewer the options become. And to those nations that choose to ignore this threat – or, worse still, to enable it – the weight of this crisis is on your conscience,” he said.
Mr Trump, who held a summit with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae In on Tuesday, also reaffirmed US commitment to the defence of its allies South Korea and Japan, stressing that the US will not be intimidated by threats.
"The regime has interpreted America’s past restraint as weakness. This would be a fatal miscalculation.... Do not underestimate us, and do not try us. We will defend our common security, our shared prosperity, and our sacred liberty."
The contrast on the two sides of DMZ separating the two Koreas could not be more stark, Mr Trump told a crowd of 550 lawmakers and foreign diplomats. He devoted a large part of his speech to praising the achievements of the South following the Korean War while slamming the North for its human rights abuses.
North Korea, he said, is a country "ruled as a cult", where its enslaved people suffer all kinds of atrocities and abuses. The South, however, has prospered by taking control of its destiny.
"The more successful South Korea becomes, the more decisively you discredit the dark fantasy at the heart of the Kim regime. In this way, the very existence of a thriving South Korean republic threatens the very survival of the North Korean dictatorship."
Earlier on Wednesday morning, Mr Trump tried to make an unscheduled visit to the DMZ upon Mr Moon's suggestion, but the US leader was forced to abort the plan due to bad weather.
A visit to the DMZ, despite his aides’ earlier insistence he had no plans to go there, would likely further inflame tensions with North Korea.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Moon was going to join Trump there, a "historic moment" because she believes it would have been the first time a US and South Korean president had visited the DMZ together. Mr Moon Moon had flown to the border earlier, before the weather closed in.
"The effort shows the strong and importance of the alliance between the two countries," Ms Sanders told reporters.
After his speech at the National Assembly, he paid respects to fallen US soldiers at the Seoul National Cemetery and departed for Beijing, his next stop on his five-nation tour.
Analysts say like the comments he made on the first day of his trip to South Korea, his National Assembly speech took more of a carrot-and-stick approach and clearly showed restraint. On Tuesday he signalled a willingness to negotiate as he urged Pyongyang to "come to the table" and "make a deal".
Mr Trump had previously threatened to "totally destroying" North Korea with "fire and fury". He had also used a derogatory nickname "Little Rocket Man" to mock North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He did not make such fiery threats during his brief visit to the South.
On Wednesday, he repeated that the US has nearby a “nuclear submarine, appropriately positioned.”
“I want peace through strength,” he said.
Three US aircraft carrier strike groups will exercise together in the Western Pacific in the coming days in a show of force rarely seen in the region.