North Korea criticizes the United States, hints at the resumption of nuclear and ICBM tests

SEOUL – Accusing the United States of hostility and threats, North Korea said Thursday it would consider restarting “all temporarily suspended activities” it had halted during its diplomacy with the Trump administration, in an apparent threat to resume testing of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong Un chaired a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, where officials set policy goals to “immediately strengthen” the military capabilities of the North to counter the “hostile movements” of the Americans.

Officials instructed to “comprehensively reconsider the confidence-building measures that we have taken on our own initiative…and promptly consider the matter of restarting all temporarily suspended activities,” the statement said. the KCNA.

Experts say Kim is reviving Pyongyang’s old tightrope playbook to extract concessions from Washington and its neighbors as it grapples with a decaying economy crippled by the pandemic, mismanagement and US sanctions against its nuclear ambitions.

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The North has recently stepped up its weapons demonstrations, including four rounds of missile launches this month, in an apparent effort to pressure Washington over an extended freeze on nuclear diplomacy.

The North’s Foreign Ministry had already warned of stronger and more explicit action after the Biden administration last week imposed new sanctions against the North’s continued missile testing activities. The UN Security Council has scheduled a closed-door meeting for Thursday to discuss North Korea and non-proliferation issues.

Boo Seung-Chan, spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, said he was closely monitoring North Korea’s military activities, but did not make any guesses about the North’s next steps.

Kim announced a unilateral suspension of his nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2018 as he began diplomacy with then-President Donald Trump in a bid to leverage his nuclear weapons for much-needed economic benefits .

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Their summit came after a provocative run in North Korean nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing in 2017 that demonstrated Kim’s pursuit of an arsenal that can viably target the American homeland and led him to trade threats of nuclear annihilation with Trump.

But negotiations have stalled since their second summit in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s request for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

At the end of that year, Kim pledged to further strengthen his nuclear arsenal in the face of ‘gangster-style’ US threats and pressure and declared a ‘frontal breakthrough’ against sanctions while urging his people to remain resilient. in a struggle for economic autonomy. addiction. He then said the North was no longer obligated to maintain its suspension of nuclear and ICBM testing, which Trump touted as a major achievement.

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However, the pandemic has thwarted many of Kim’s economic goals as the North imposed a lockdown and halted most of its trade with China, its main ally and economic lifeline.

North Korea appears to have resumed rail freight traffic with China this month that had been suspended for two years.

North Korea carried out its sixth and final test of a nuclear explosive device in September 2017 and its last ICBM launch was in November of the same year.

Some experts say the North could up the ante significantly at weapons demonstrations after the end of February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing. They say Pyongyang’s leaders likely think it would take a dramatic provocation to move the needle with the Biden administration, which has offered indefinite talks but shown no willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to abandon his nuclear and missile program.

Stating that American hostility has reached a “danger line” that can no longer be ignored, members of North Korea’s Politburo called for practical measures to “more reliably and effectively increase our physical strength to uphold the dignity , the sovereign rights and interests of our State”. the KCNA said.

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They blamed the United States for continuing military exercises with South Korea and arming its ally with advanced weapons and asserted – apparently wrongly – that Washington continued to send strategic resources to the region to make pressure on the North.

Since 2018, the United States has drastically reduced its combined exercises with South Korea, which have mostly been reduced to computer simulations, to make room for diplomacy with North Korea and concerns over COVID-19. .

Duyeon Kim, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said North Korea’s allegation of U.S. hostility was a pretext for further testing.

“Pyongyang is steadfastly focused on meeting its nuclear weapons milestones because of its military imperative to do so. That means more tests to come,” she said. “The pandemic has given Pyongyang plenty of time to continue developing nuclear weapons because North Korea has closed its borders and refused direct talks, fearing to import the virus.”

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In recent years, Kim Jong Un has showcased new weapons he may wish to test, including what appeared to be North Korea’s largest ICBM ever deployed during a military parade in October 2020.

He also released an ambitious wish list of sophisticated weapons early last year while laying out a five-year military force development plan, which included hypersonic missiles, solid-fuel ICBMs, spy satellites and missiles. nuclear weapons launched by submarines.

If the North stages another nuclear test, it could use the event to claim it has acquired the ability to build a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a purported hypersonic missile it has tested twice this year, experts say. .

Last week, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five North Koreans for their role in obtaining equipment and technology for North Korean missile programs, in its response to the first North Korean tests this this month.

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The State Department ordered sanctions against another North Korean, a Russian, and a Russian company for their broader support of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction activities. The Biden administration has also said it will pursue additional UN sanctions for the North’s continued testing.

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