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North Korea says U.S. criticism has helped it make decision on stalled nuclear talks

North Korea's Kim Jong Un. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
December 14, 2019

North Korea took aim at the United States on Thursday for convening a U.N. Security Council meeting, saying the “provocative act” had helped it decide which path to take in deadlocked nuclear talks.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced a year-end deadline in April for the United States to drop its insistence on unilateral denuclearization, warning that Pyongyang could take a “new path” amid the stalled talks. Top U.S. officials, however, have brushed off the deadline as “artificial.”

“By holding the meeting, the U.S. did a foolish thing which will boomerang on it, and decisively helped us make a definite decision on what way to choose,” a spokesman for the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The remarks came on the heels of a Security Council session Wednesday in New York that had been held at the request of the U.S. At the meeting, U.S. envoy to the U.N. Kelly Craft said there had been “deeply troubling indications” that North Korea is poised for a major provocation.

“In practical terms, this would mean that the DPRK could launch space vehicles using long-range ballistic missile technology, or that they could even test-launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are designed to attack the continental United States with nuclear weapons,” Craft told the Security Council, using the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Thursday’s statement by the unidentified North Korean official hit back against Craft’s remarks.

“Such claim that they are entitled to launch ICBMs any time and we are not allowed to conduct the tests done by any other countries just sheds light on the nature of the bandit-like U.S. which seeks to disarm us completely,” the official said.

On Saturday, North Korea conducted what it called an “very important test” at its Sohae long-range rocket testing site, spurring speculation that it could be preparing to launch a satellite or long-range missile. South Korea’s defense chief said Tuesday that the test had been of a rocket engine.

Earlier this month, a senior North Korean official threatened earlier to deliver a “Christmas gift” to the United States, a remark that stirred concern that Pyongyang planned to escalate its confrontation with Washington.

Kim has demanded that the United States ease crushing unilateral and U.N. sanctions in exchange for some progress on the denuclearization issue. The U.S., however, has insisted that the North first relinquish its nuclear arsenal.

Without backing off that insistence, Craft said that the U.S. was willing to take a conciliatory approach.

“We remain ready to take actions in parallel, and to simultaneously take concrete steps toward this agreement,” Craft said. “We are prepared to be flexible in how we approach this matter. And we recognize the need for a balanced agreement that addresses the concerns of all parties.”

But North Korea has repeatedly blasted the prospect of talks that do not address its goal of sanctions relief as stalling by the U.S. side.

“The U.S. talks about dialogue, whenever it opens its mouth, but it is very evident that the U.S. has nothing to present before us though dialogue may open,” the Foreign Ministry official said.

“The U.S. talked about a ‘corresponding measure’ in the meeting,” the official added. “However, as we already declared, we have nothing to lose … and we are ready to take a countermeasure corresponding to anything that the U.S. opts for.”

A return to ICBM launches or nuclear tests could send U.S.-North Korea ties back to where they were in 2017, when tensions surged and analysts worried about a military conflict. It would also undermine what Trump considers to be one of his key foreign policy achievements as he faces impeachment proceedings and as his re-election campaign heats up.

As part of a possible push to salvage talks by reaching out to North Korean officials ahead of the deadline, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is expected to visit Seoul next week to meet South Korean officials.

But Craft, while emphasizing that the U.S. hopes to keep diplomacy alive, warned that “if events prove otherwise, we, this Security Council, must all be prepared to act accordingly.”


© 2019 the Japan Times