Published December 20, 2015
North Korea issued a new threat against the United States late Sunday and accused President Barack Obama of "recklessly" spreading rumors that Pyongyang is behind last month's devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures.
The long statement from the powerful National Defense Commission warned of strikes against the White House, Pentagon and "the whole U.S. mainland, that cesspool of terrorism."
Such rhetoric is routine from North Korea's massive propaganda machine during times of high tension with Washington. But the statement also underscores Pyongyang's sensitivity at a movie whose plot focuses on the assassination of its leader Kim Jong Un, who is the beneficiary of a decades-long cult of personality built around his family dynasty.
The North Korean statement offered no details of a possible response, but warned that the country's 1.2 million-member army is ready to use all types of warfare against the U.S.
"Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland ... by far surpassing the 'symmetric counteraction' declared by Obama," said the commission's Policy Department in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The latest threat came hours after President Obama confirmed that he was considering returning North Korea to the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. Obama, who previously promised in his year-end press conference on Friday to respond "proportionately" to the attack, has termed the breach as an act of "cybervandalism that was very costly, very expensive" as opposed to an act of war.
"We're going to review those through a process that's already in place," Obama told CNN's "State of the Union" in an interview broadcast Sunday. "I'll wait to review what the findings are."
North Korea spent two decades on the list until the Bush administration removed it in 2008 during nuclear negotiations. Only Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba remain on the list, which triggers sanctions that limit U.S. aid, defense exports and certain financial transactions.
But adding North Korea back could be difficult. To meet the criteria, the State Department must determine that a country has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, a definition that traditionally has referred to violent, physical attacks rather than hacking.
Obama's other options, which include sanctions targeting high-level North Korean officials and retaliatory cyberattacks, are limited. The U.S. already has trade penalties in place and there is no appetite for military action.
Also Sunday, Sony lawyer David Boies told NBC's "Meet The Press" that the studio would distribute "The Interview," a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as bumbling journalists tapped by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un. Sony scrapped a planned Christmas Day release of the film after receiving terror threats targeting movie theaters from the hackers, who refer to themselves as the Guardians of Peace.
"What Sony has been trying to do is to get the picture out to the public," while protecting the rights of company employers and moviegoers, Boies said. He added that theaters "quite understandably" decided not to show the film as scheduled because of the threats. "You can't release a movie unless you have a distribution channel," he said.
In the CNN interview, Obama renewed his criticism of Sony's decision to shelve "The Interview," despite the company's insistence that its hand was forced by the theaters' refusal to show it.
Obama suggested he might have been able to help address the problem if given the chance. "You know, had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what that story was," he said.
Sony's CEO has disputed that the company never reached out, saying he spoke to a senior White House adviser about the situation before Sony announced the decision. White House officials said Sony did discuss cybersecurity with the federal government, but that the White House was never consulted on the decision not to distribute the film.
"I think we've got to recognize that this is not a Sony security problem," Boies said. "This is a national security problem."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.