North Korea revokes nuclear moratorium, signals major weapons test

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North Korea revokes nuclear moratorium, signals major weapons test

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on New Years’ eve proclaimed Pyongyang would no longer be bound to a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and that it would continue building on a nuclear deterrent for the sake of its sovereignty.

In a long-anticipated address delivered on the last day of the 5th plenary meeting of the 7th ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, Kim condemned the United States for maintaining a chokehold on North Korea’s economy with sanctions, a posture that reflected a “hostile policy” running against the goodwill Pyongyang believes it demonstrated with its suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests in 2018.

“Under such condition, there is no ground for us to get unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer, the commitment to which there is no opposite party, and this is chilling our efforts for worldwide nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation,” Kim said.

Kim then vowed to bolster his country’s military muscle so as to build a “powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the U.S. and guaranteeing our long-term security,” though the “scope and depth” of that buildup “will be coordinated depending on the U.S. future attitude.”

“The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future,” Kim added, noting that Washington’s “impudent” stance vis-à-vis their negotiations has impelled the regime to “shift to a shocking action to make [the U.S.] pay for the pains sustained” by its people.

The DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.

The speech, which represents the North’s long awaited response to the expiry of its year-end deadline for talks with Washington, signals Kim’s intention to face the United States head-on in a protracted effort to induce a policy shift from Washington on sanctions relief.

Experts and officials in South Korea and the United States had long predicted the North would use a verbal revocation its nuclear moratorium as a pressure card at the year’s end, though the address notably did not extinguish the possibility of a diplomatic solution going forward.

According to Cheong Seong-chang, a leading North Korea researcher at the South’s Sejong Institute, Kim’s words entail the regime has effectively abandoned nuclear negotiations and will now be focusing its efforts on building on its nuclear, ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) arsenal to compel the United States to yield.

The reference to a “shocking action” means Pyongyang could very well test a long-range missile or a SLBM through a new submarine within the year to demonstrate it is serious, Cheong said.

Equally notable, however, are the lack of personal attacks toward U.S. President Donald Trump, whose decision to walk out of the second summit with Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, last February derailed the closest attempt the North has gotten towards achieving its aim of sanctions relief, and hints of continued dialogue contingent upon American responses.

Some observers have noted the fact that Pyongyang did not conduct a surprise ICBM launch at the year’s end - in spite of its relentless accusations of Washington lacking interest in a resolution - testify to the regime’s lack of options amid the stalemate, lest the United States reverts to considering military options against North Korea.

Suggestive of this caution are Kim’s remarks painting his decision to pursue continued weapons development as a last resort of sorts. An ensuing atmosphere of hostility with the United States meant his country could no longer shun its security concerns “just for the visible economic results and happiness and comfort,” the dictator said.

If North Korea does not “put spur to the struggle for bolstering the power for self-development while waiting for the lift of sanctions, the enemies' reactionary offensive will get fiercer to check our advance,” Kim added, calling on all party cadres and state officials to focus their efforts on ensuring Pyongyang’s economic “self-reliance.”

And as he did in a seven hour address during the previous day’s plenary meeting, Kim warned of “another arduous and prolonged struggle” with the United States, which he said made it a “fait accompli that we have to live under sanctions by hostile forces.”

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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