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Defense Secretary Esper calls North Korean nuclear missile program a ‘serious threat’

North Korean ballistic missile. (Stefan Krasowski, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
October 21, 2020

Pyongyang recently unveiled previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missiles prompting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper to designate North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as a potential global threat.

“We agree that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain a serious threat to the security and stability of the region and the world,” Esper said during an Oct. 14 meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook, as Reuters reported.

During North Korea’s Oct. 10 military parade, the regime showcased a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), raising concerns for numerous Western observers. South Korean officials were also reportedly highly concerned about new multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) developed by the North Korean regime, as well as maneuverable short-range missiles that would easily strike South Korean targets.

Standing in contrast to Esper’s concerns, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters last week that the ICBMs are considered a reduced risk until testing in Pyongyang verifies the missile is functional. Pompeo also credited Trump’s policy of engagement for the reduced risk.

“The North Koreans … last year did exactly zero intercontinental ballistic missile tests,” Pompeo told reporters. “The same held true for the year before that. So the agreement, the understandings, albeit not achieving out ultimate objective in North Korea, has certainly led to reduced risks for the United States versus where we would have been had we continued on the path that the previous administration had engaged in.”

Esper also said the United States and South Korea need to do a better job of sharing the defense costs of the Republic of Korea so it “doesn’t fall unequally on the American taxpayers.”

“The United States remains committed to the security of the Republic of Korea,” Esper added.

Esper’s comments echoed President Donald Trump’s repeated statements that Seoul should bear more of the financial burden of the cost of U.S. troops deployed in South Korea.

“South Korea is a very wealthy nation. They make our television sets, they make ships, they make everything. And, I give them great credit. We’ve been defending them for many, many decades,” Trump said during a press briefing in April. “I’ve gone to them in the past. Last year I went to them, now they’re paying a billion dollars a year, and I went to them again and I said, ‘Look I’ll be back because that’s just a fraction.’”

“Again, the relationship is great, but it’s just not a fair relationship,” Trump said at the time.

Almost 30,000 American troops are stationed in South Korea. The military presence is viewed as a warning to Pyongyang, as well as a signal to China about America’s influence in the region.