North Korean leader Kim Jong-un yesterday declared an end to moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, while threatening a demonstration of a “new strategic weapon.”
The announcement, reported by state media, amounted to Kim putting a missile “to [US President] Donald Trump’s head,” analysts said, warning that the escalation by Pyongyang would probably backfire.
Washington was swift to respond, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging Kim to “take a different course,” adding that the US wanted “peace not confrontation” with North Korea.
Trump played down the development.
Pyongyang has previously fired missiles capable of reaching the US mainland and has carried out six nuclear tests, the last of them 16 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, according to the highest estimates.
A self-imposed ban on such tests — Kim declared they were no longer needed — has been a centerpiece of nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington over the past two years, which has seen three meetings between Kim and Trump, but little tangible progress.
Any test is likely to infuriate Trump, who has repeatedly referred to Kim’s “promise” to him not to carry them out and has downplayed launches of shorter-range weapons.
Negotiations between the two sides have been largely deadlocked since the breakup of a Hanoi summit in February last year and North Korea set the US an end-of-year deadline for it to offer fresh concessions on sanctions relief, or it would adopt a “new way.”
“There is no ground for us to get unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer,” Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) cited Kim as telling top officials.
“The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] in the near future,” he added.
The full meeting of the central committee of the Workers’ Party was an indication of a major policy shift.
Kim acknowledged the impact of international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its weapons programs, but made it clear that North Korea was willing to pay the price to preserve its nuclear capability.
“The US is raising demands contrary to the fundamental interests of our state and is adopting a brigandish attitude,” KCNA cited him as saying.
Washington had “conducted tens of big and small joint military drills which its president personally promised to stop,” and sent high-tech military equipment to South Korea, he said.
Pyongyang for months has been demanding the easing of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, while Washington has insisted it takes more tangible steps toward giving them up.
“North Korea has, in effect, put an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] to Donald Trump’s head in order to gain the two concessions it wants most: sanctions relief and some sort of security guarantee,” Washington-based Center for the National Interest director of defense studies Harry Kazianis said. “Kim Jong-un is playing a dangerous game of geopolitical chicken.”
The strategy is risky, he said, as Washington is likely to respond with “more sanctions, an increased military presence in East Asia, and more fire and fury style threats coming from Donald Trump’s Twitter account.”
Speaking to Fox News and CBS after Kim’s announcement, Pompeo said that a resumption of nuclear and missile tests would be “deeply disappointing.”
“We hope that Chairman Kim will take a different course ... that he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war,” Pompeo said. “We want peace, not confrontation.”
The South Korean Ministry of Unification said that a strategic weapon test “would not help denuclearization negotiations.”
Trump was emollient, saying that he thought Kim was “a man of his word,” and that at their Singapore summit “we did sign a contract, talking about denuclearization.”
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