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North’s Kim heaps pressure on Trump to relax sanctions

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea on an unknown date. This photo is released by state-run Korean Central News Agency on May 24, 2020. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea on an unknown date. This photo is released by state-run Korean Central News Agency on May 24, 2020. (KCNA-Yonhap)


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s message Sunday that he would bolster nuclear capabilities sparked fresh speculation in Seoul over Pyongyang’s intentions, with some analysts here suggesting a new missile launch while others weigh in on less drastic approaches.

Presiding over a key military meeting, his first public appearance in three weeks, Kim vowed to ramp up his country’s “nuclear war deterrence,” Pyongyang’s state media reported Sunday, with no indication of when the meeting was held.

The message came amid deadlocked nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang, with the last round of talks held in October 2019 failing to result in a deal due to differences over which steps to prioritize toward North Korea’s denuclearization.

Some observers floated the possibility that Kim might be planning another military provocation – potentially involving a submarine-launched ballistic missile – but other experts said Kim was again seizing the opportunity to continue building a cause for his country’s expansion of nuclear and missile program.

“An intercontinental ballistic missile or long range missile, at the least, would draw Washington’s attention, but would Kim really go through that when he knows he couldn’t get the maximum attention he needs because of the coronavirus pandemic?” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense & Security Forum.

Shin said the meeting Kim hosted aimed to revamp his military with attention to beefing up nuclear and artillery capabilities and to solidify a cause for the country’s continued struggle against the US that has refused to lift the sanctions as demanded by the North.

Shin added Kim was unlikely to showcase an SLBM or something equivalent in near future, and other North Korea specialists agreed.

“Given how Washington said that there wouldn’t be bilateral negotiations between the US and North Korea, a message Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed himself, what Kim said at the meeting wasn’t really indicative of an imminent provocation,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Yang said Kim was trying to draw President Donald Trump back to the table for talks and rethink the relaxation of the sanctions against the communist regime.

Kim has earlier warned, amid stalled nuclear talks with the US, that he would unveil a “new strategic weapon” this year and could take a “shocking action” if his demands for a loosening of sanctions are not met.

A more advanced ICBM or SLBM has long been discussed as the new weapon.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)

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