North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared an end to moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and threatened a demonstration of a “new strategic weapon” soon.
Analysts said the announcement, reported by state media on Wednesday, amounted to Kim putting a missile “to Donald Trump’s head” — but warned that escalation by Pyongyang would probably backfire.
Washington was swift to respond, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging Kim to “take a different course” and stressing that the US wanted “peace not confrontation” with the North, while Trump played down the development.
Pyongyang has previously fired missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland, and has carried out six nuclear tests, the last of them 16 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast, according to the highest estimates.
A self-imposed ban on such tests — Kim declared they were no longer needed — has been a centrepiece of the nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington over the past two years, which has seen three meetings between Kim and the US president, but little tangible progress.
Any actual 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 their Hanoi summit in February. The North set the US an end-of-2019 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,” the official KCNA news agency cited Kim as telling top ruling party officials.
“The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future,” he added, referring to the North by its official name.
The full meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party was an indication of a major policy shift.
State television showed veteran newsreader Ri Chun Hee reading out the KCNA dispatch over footage of Kim addressing the officials and general imagery of the country.
The broadcast appeared to stand in place of Kim’s usual New Year speech — normally a key moment in the North Korean political calendar.
Kim acknowledged the impact of international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its weapons programmes, but made clear that the North 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 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 the South, he said.
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