North Korea vows to strengthen nuclear capabilities, tells US to end ‘nasty nuclear threats’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2017, 11:10am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2017, 3:25pm

The US defence chief warned on Friday that a military solution to the standoff with North Korea would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale”, while the North vowed to rapidly strengthen its nuclear strike capability as long as it faces “hostile” US policies.

North Korea tested a longer-range missile last weekend, which experts say was a significant advance for a weapons programme that aims at having a nuclear-tipped missile that can strike America. The test triggered a new US-backed push for a fresh round of UN sanctions against the North.

At the United Nations, North Korea’s deputy ambassador, Kim In-ryong, was defiant. He said North Korea would never abandon its “nuclear deterrence for self-defence and pre-emptive strike capability” even if the US ratchets up sanctions and pressure “to the utmost”.

Speaking to reporters, Kim hailed the test launch and said that if the Trump administration wants peace on the divided Korean Peninsula, it should replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean war with a peace accord and halt its anti-North Korea policy.

At the Pentagon, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said the missile test showed North Korea isn’t heeding cautions from the international community. However, he stressed the need for a peaceful resolution by working through the UN with countries including China, the North’s traditional ally and benefactor.

“If this goes to a military solution it is going to be tragic on an unbelievable scale, and so our effort is to work with the UN, work with China, work with Japan, work with South Korea to try to find a way out of this situation,” Mattis said at a news conference.

He said North Korea “probably learned a lot” from last weekend’s test. He said the missile went very high and came down, but he would not characterise it as a controlled re-entry.

Guiding a long-range missile to a target on return to Earth is a key technological hurdle that North Korea must overcome in trying to perfect a missile that could threaten the US. The North also probably has a long way to go before it can miniaturise a nuclear warhead so it could be mounted on such a missile.

All 15 members of the UN Security Council, the world organisation’s most powerful body, this week called the launch a violation of existing sanctions and vowed to take new measures, including additional sanctions.

Before an emergency meeting of the council on Tuesday, US Ambassador Nikki Haley declared: “You either support North Korea or you don’t, but you have to choose. You have to pick a side.”

Kim accused the council of playing “to the tune of the US again” and protested the Trump administration’s demand for countries to choose allegiance between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, his country’s official name.

President Donald Trump is looking to both China and Russia, the two permanent members on the Security Council that have historically been most sympathetic to North Korea, to join the US-backed campaign of diplomatic and economic pressure on the North to get it to denuclearise.

Asked about Beijing and Moscow’s support for the six previous rounds of UN sanctions, Kim said both countries are “close neighbours” who “understand our nuclear projection occurred through the US continued nuclear threat and its hostile policy” toward North Korea.

If the United States “persists in anti-DPRK sanctions without understanding its rival, the [Trump] administration will have to take full responsibility for the ensuing catastrophic consequences”, he warned.

“The US should mind that the DPRK nuclear striking capability will be strengthened and developed at a rapidly high speed as long as the US insists [on] its anti-DPRK policy, nasty nuclear threats and blackmails, sanction and pressure,” Kim said.