North Korea condemned President Donald Trump's new, inflated defense budget and accused the U.S. of pursuing aggressive strategies to dominate the Middle East, the latest episode in Pyongyang's historic opposition to Washington's plans for the region.
A commentary published Wednesday by government newspaper Rodong Sinmun said that Trump's announcement of a $700 billion defense budget for the fiscal year 2018—nearly $100 billion more than the previous year—is proof that "the U.S. ruling quarters are seized with such megalomania as dominating the world." As North Korea and the U.S. face off in a months-long nuclear crisis, the outlet said that the massive budget, along with a new permanent U.S. military base in Israel, belied the U.S.'s stated peacekeeping intentions.
"This is a revelation of the U.S. invariable ambition for dominating the world," the Rodong Sinmun article read, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
"It is nonsensical for such ringleader of aggression to talk about 'international peace,'" it added.
While North Korea's state-run media regularly fires off against the U.S.'s ideological position in regards to the Korean Peninsula, where the U.S. opposes North Korea's self-proclaimed right to possess and develop nuclear weapons, Wednesday's article featured a rare stab at U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The outlet said the U.S.'s dedication Monday of its first permanent military base in its traditional ally, Israel, was "arousing bigger concern in the world community."
North Korea has long been a backer of Arab forces opposed to Israel. North Korea's first supreme leader, Kim Il-sung, sent pilots and other personnel to support Egypt's armed forces clashing with Israel, which North Korea regarded as a U.S.-backed "imperial state," during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, according to The Diplomat. Throughout the 1980s, it supplied weapons to left-wing Arab states and pro-Palestinian militant groups and in 1988 declared its support for an independent Palestinian state, despite Israel's territorial claims.
The U.S. also accused North Korea of helping Iran and Syria develop their nuclear programs, something both countries deny. In his 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush listed North Korea along with Iran and President Saddam Hussein's Iraq as part of the so-called "Axis of Evil," a label that was later expanded to include Syria, Cuba and Muammar Gaddafi's Libya.
Since Kim Jong Un took power after his father's death in 2011, the young North Korean leader has largely focused on improving the country's economy and military. This year alone, North Korea tested its first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear weapons test. However, the notoriously reclusive state has positioned itself ideologically with the modern, so-called "Axis of Resistance," which includes Syria, Iran and Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah.
The three are united in their opposition to U.S. and Israeli foreign policy and they have all expressed admiration for North Korea's defiance of U.S. threats. On April 7, the U.S. launched a cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase after accusing Assad of ordering a chemical weapons attack against civilians days earlier, something he and his Russian ally deny. Trump reportedly ordered the strike while attempting to pressure Chinese President Xi Jinping to take more action against North Korea, which called the attack on Syria "unforgivable," according to Reuters.
Days later, photos of billboards emerged in southern Lebanon, a center of support for Hezbollah and Assad, showing Kim with the nickname "Abu Ali Kim, The Vanquisher of Enemies." Pyongyang said the attack on Syria validated its decision to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent and Kim and Trump have locked themselves in an escalating war of words and insults ever since.
After Kim reportedly wished Assad a happy birthday earlier this month, the Syrian leader reportedly wrote back, thanking both Kim and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for backing him in Syria's six-year war. Syria's Saudi-backed exiled opposition claimed last year that North Korean troops were fighting on Assad's behalf in Syria, and the U.N. has accused North Korea of helping Assad build chemical weapons that he maintains the Syrian government does not possess.
Israel has become increasingly involved in the neighboring conflict in Syria, where it has conducted airstrikes against the forces of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. Israeli Brigadier General Zvi Haimovich said the U.S. base, located in the southern Negev region, was "here to stay" and "was right and necessary," according to Israeli daily Haaretz.