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North Korea could hold 40 nuclear weapons by year’s end, researcher claims

An intercontinental ballistic missile is launched in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service)
September 19, 2019

A researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) believes North Korea, under Kim Jong-Un’s leadership, will have constructed 40 nuclear weapons by the start of 2020.

On Monday, SIPRI researcher Dan Smith spoke with reporters outside the home of the Swedish ambassador to South Korea about North Korea’s continued nuclear development, as reported by South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

In a June 2018 estimate, Smith indicated North Korea had between 20 to 30 nuclear weapons at the time. His new estimates of Pyongyang’s nuclear development plan suggests the country has not slowed its pace towards a nuclear arsenal, despite rounds of talks between Kim and President Donald Trump.

Smith said North Korea does not believe its nuclear development runs afoul of its own commitment to “denuclearization.”

He said the definition of “denuclearization” not only a technical matter but a political one.

In December of last year, North Korea said it will not complete its commitment to denuclearization until the U.S. removes its nuclear capabilities from the peninsula.

“When we talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighboring the Korean Peninsula,” said the statement, broadcasted by the Korean Central News Agency, the state news agency for North Korea.

The U.S. does not reportedly have any of its nuclear weapons on the Peninsula, but does maintain a number of military bases in South Korea.

A round of negotiations in Hanoi, Vietnam in February of this year reportedly stalled over North Korean requests to end U.S. sanctions in their entirety.

“Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” Trump told reporters in Hanoi, Vietnam, in the days after the meeting ended.

“Sometimes you have to walk, and this was one of those times,” he said at the time.

In March, North Korea threatened to end talks altogether with the U.S.

The U.S. has continued enforcement of North Korean sanctions and the North Koreans have continued various missile tests, signaling defiance to the denuclearization talks.

At the end of June, Trump met Un at the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea. He even crossed briefly over to the North Korean side, making him the first U.S. president to do so in what appeared to be impromptu occasion. Though the occasion signaled an interest in continued talks for denuclearization, no new efforts have been made to continue the process.

Last week, North Korea conducted its tenth missile test since May of this year. The test came shortly after North Korean official Choe Son Hui issued a statement calling on the U.S. to meet for a new round of denuclearization talks “at the time and place to be agreed late in September.”