Ri Jong-ho, a North Korean defector who previously ran an international network of North Korean businesses, claims the current sanctions could devastate the hermit dictatorship.
He told crowds at an Asia Society event in New York: “The sanctions that the White House has imposed on North Korea are of a historic level.
“Never before has the country faced such tough sanctions. I don’t know if North Korea will survive a year with these sanctions. People will die.”
Mr Ri used to be in charge of North Korean tactics to get around UN sanctions, but defected with his family in 2014.
He added he believes Kim Jong-un’s aggressive nuclear testing programme and anti-Trump rhetoric is masking an attempt to force the US into a diplomatic dialogue that does not involve South Korea.
Mr Ri said: “Right now the leadership of North Korea have deployed missiles aimed at the US and are doing these provocations, but they desperately want relations with the US.”
He claimed North Korea and China are at “the very worst point of their relationship”. This follows Kim Jong-un’s purge of officials friendly to China, and Chinese President Xi’s decision to visit Seoul before Pyongyang on his 2014 trip to the Korean peninsula.
He also claimed Kim branded President Xi a “son-of-a-bitch” during a meeting of high-ranking officials after the visit.
North Korea is therefore unlikely to reach a diplomatic solution to its current woes through China and seeks to put pressure on the US instead, he said.
Mr Ri’s comments come after North Korea threatened to totally destroy the USA and warned Donald Trump “should think twice about what terrible consequences the US will face” as the “Korean Peninsula is on the threshold of a nuclear disaster”.
Kim Jong-un’s mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency, blasted joint US-South Korean military drills as a “sinister scenario to provoke a nuclear war by all means”. It vowed that North Korea will hit back if the US destroys their nuclear facilities.
Referring the despotic nation by its North Korean abbreviation, it said: “The US reckless military gambling against DPRK may lead to its total destruction.
“The DPRK is ready to counter the war of aggression with a war of justice and cope with the enemy’s dagger with a sword and his rifle with an artillery piece.”
It also accused the US of a “sinister” plot “to provoke a nuclear war by all means so as to totally destroy the DPRK and exterminate the population of the north.”