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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 the 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 the 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 to expand his nuclear and missile program.

“An intercontinental ballistic missile or long range missile would draw Washington’s attention, but would Kim do it when he knows he couldn’t get the maximum attention he needs due to the pandemic?” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense & Security Forum.

Shin said the meeting Kim hosted aimed to expand nuclear and artillery capabilities and to solidify a cause for the country’s continued struggle against the US, which has refused to lift the North’s sanctions.

Shin added Kim was unlikely to showcase an SLBM or something equivalent in near future.

“Washington said that there wouldn’t be bilateral negotiations between the US and North Korea, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed it. 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 US President Donald Trump back to the table for talks and rethink the relaxation of the sanctions against the communist regime.

Kim has said 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 is considered Kim’s choice of the new weapon.

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