North Korea suggests restart of nuclear weapons missile tests, calls US “hostile”

North Korea indicated on Thursday that it could resume nuclear and long-range weapons tests as it prepares for a “confrontation” with Washington, its latest threat following a series of sanction-firing missile launches.

Pyongyang has not tested intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons since 2017, and staged the launches when leader Kim Jong Un launched a flash of high-level diplomacy and met then-US President Donald Trump three times before talks collapsed two years later.

Since then, the nuclear-armed Nordic region has rejected US offers of talks while restarting certain tests, including of hypersonic missiles, as Kim strives for its stated goal of further strengthening its military.

When Washington imposed new sanctions last week, Pyongyang said it was a “provocation” and stepped up conventional weapons tests, promising a “stronger and safer” response to efforts to curb it.

“America’s hostile policies and military threats have reached a danger line that can no longer be overlooked,” a report on a meeting with the country’s Politburo in state media KCNA said on Thursday.

The top Nordic officials “unanimously acknowledged that we should make more thorough preparations for a long-term confrontation with the American imperialists,” the KCNA reported.

This includes investigating restarting all temporarily suspended activities, the report added.

The potential resumption of nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests that could hit the continental United States comes at a sensitive time in the region, with Kim’s only major ally China hosting next month’s Winter Olympics and South Korea preparing for a presidential election in March.

“2017 again” North Korea was doing its part during US President Joe Biden’s first year in office, but without any offer of top-level talks, they have moved on, says Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.

“It’s practically 2017 again,” he said, referring to a year when Pyongyang tested nuclear weapons and the ICBM as “little rocket man” Kim Jong Un exchanged barbs with “dotard” Trump.

“With North’s announcement, it seems inevitable that they will implement ICBM launches along the way,” he said.

Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace agreed that although nuclear testing was unlikely, “testing of long-range missiles is back on the table.”

Kim Jong Un “repeats a message he had delivered at the end of 2019: that US action gives him no reason to follow his self-imposed moratorium.”

Kim had put new long-range missile launches on his military modernization agenda in January last year but had always linked a return to such tests to US actions, Panda said.

“Unfortunately, the latest round of sanctions seems to have triggered this step,” he added.

However, the wording of the latest KCNA announcement indicates that “Pyongyang may leave some room for flexibility, depending on how the Biden administration responds,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee of the Stimson Center.

Earlier this week, the United States called on the country to “cease its illegal and destabilizing activities” after saying it would seek new UN sanctions against North Korea.

But China’s special representative for the Korean Peninsula’s affairs poured cold water on the idea of ​​a Security Council meeting to discuss new curbs on the northern already struggling economy.

“#SecurityCouncil has no plans to discuss the so-called draft resolution on sanctions against #DPRK,” Liu Xiaoming wrote on Twitter.

Despite North Korea tensing its military muscles, North Korea, economically abolished by a self-imposed coronavirus blockade, has quietly resumed cross-border trade with China.

A freight train from North Korea arrived in the Chinese border town of Dandong for the first time since the beginning of 2020 last weekend.

(AFP)

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