We have hydrogen bomb, says Kim Jong-un

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We have hydrogen bomb, says Kim Jong-un

Leader Kim Jong-un boasted that North Korea had acquired a hydrogen bomb despite decades of attempts to reel in its nuclear capabilities.

“Thanks to the historic gun shots fired by our dear leader [Kim Il Sung], our state was able to become a strong nuclear-armed country capable of producing hydrogen bombs alongside atomic bombs in our defense of our sovereignty and integrity,” Kim was quoted as saying by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Thursday.

Kim made the remark during a field trip to the Phyongchon Revolutionary Site a day earlier in Pyongyang. The site is hailed by the North as the birthplace of its military.

While the North has repeatedly declared itself a nuclear-armed state, this was the first time a North Korean leader declared it was capable of producing hydrogen bombs.

A hydrogen bomb, also known as a thermonuclear device, ignites a secondary nuclear fusion reaction that leads to a more powerful nuclear explosion than with an atomic bomb.

But experts were cautious about the veracity of Kim’s claim and warned that he may be exaggerating for his domestic audience.

“The North’s claim of an H-bomb is not credible, as evidenced by its past claims on its nuclear program,” Lee Ho-ryung, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “Pyongyang claimed it had completed the miniaturization of nuclear warheads after its third nuclear test in 2013, which all proved to be not true.”

She said Pyongyang may be “seeking to develop an H-bomb as part of its efforts to diversify its nuclear arsenal,” but the level of its mastery of the technology remains “questionable.”

A government official also played down the claim, saying that in order to build an H-bomb, the North must have succeeded in miniaturizing an atomic bomb first, a technology the North has yet to master. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Kim’s remarks on the H-bomb came 10 years after Pyongyang officially declared that it had created nuclear weapons. Since then, it has conducted three underground nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013. Despite mounting international condemnation and economic sanctions, it also changed its constitution to declare itself a nuclear-armed state.

The report came just a day before South and North Korea are scheduled to hold a vice-ministerial talk in the border city of Kaesong today to discuss a number of inter-Korean issues.

The South’s three-member delegation will be led by Vice Minister of Unification Hwang Boo-gi, while the North’s delegation will be led by Jon Jong-su, vice director of the secretariat of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, said the North’s claim of possessing an H-bomb would have limited impact, if any, on the high-level talk today. It was mainly a message intended for the United States, he said.

“The North’s declaration about the H-bomb should be understood in the context of Pyongyang-Washington relations,” he said. “With its boasting of an H-bomb, the North might have intended to prod the U.S. to accept its demand for talks to sign a peace treaty, which has been its long-held wish.”

The Friday talks are a follow-up by the two Koreas to deliver on a set of joint agreements reached in the summer that eased tensions on the peninsula sparked by a land mine blast inside the demilitarized zone, which left two South Korean soldiers maimed.

The KCNA report on Kim’s remarks fueled worries that Pyongyang was resuming a confrontational posture.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]
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