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North Korea hints that it may resume nuclear and missile tests

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting of the politburo of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea, January 19, 2022 in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) January 20, 2022. KCNA via REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting of the politburo of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, North Korea, January 19, 2022 in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) January 20, 2022. KCNA via REUTERS

North Korea would beef up its defences against the U.S. and consider resuming “all temporarily halted activities,” according to state news agency KCNA, an apparent allusion to a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests.

The news: Tensions have been growing as a result of North Korea’s recent missile launches. A U.S. effort for further sanctions was met with a vehement retaliation from Pyongyang, increasing the spectre of a return to the 2017 “fire and fury” threats.

  • According to the official KCNA news agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called a meeting of the governing Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo on Wednesday to discuss “important policy matters,” including countermeasures against “hostile” US policy.
  • The politburo ordered a reconsideration of trust-building measures and “promptly examining the issue of restarting all temporally-suspended activities,” while calling for “immediately bolstering more powerful physical means.”
  • After the U.S. failed to respond to calls for concessions to restart negotiations, Kim stated at the end of 2019 that he would no longer be bound by the embargo on testing nuclear warheads and long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
  • The assessment stated that Washington’s antagonism and threats had “reached a danger line,” noting joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, the deployment of cutting-edge US strategic weaponry in the region, and the execution of unilateral and UN sanctions.

What’s going on: North Korea’s threat came only hours before the UN Security Council was set to meet behind private doors on Thursday to address the recent missile launches, which the US and several other countries had requested.

  • During a nearly two-hour press conference on Wednesday to commemorate his first year in office, President Joe Biden made no mention of North Korea.
  • When asked how the U.S. would react if North Korea began ICBM and nuclear tests, a White House National Security Council official declined to “go into hypotheticals,” but stated that the goal remains full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
  • South Korea’s defence ministry is keeping a close eye on North Korea’s winter drills while maintaining a high readiness level, describing recent missile tests as severe threats.
  • The Unification Ministry in charge of inter-Korean relations warned of further escalation, saying the peninsula should not return to its confrontational past and that the only way ahead is via communication and diplomacy.
North Korea would bolster its defenses against the United States and consider restarting “all temporally-suspended activities,” state media KCNA reported Thursday, an apparent reference to a self-imposed moratorium on testing its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

What’s next: According to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, North Korea could launch a long-range missile or other formidable weapon in time for the 80th and 110th birthdays of Kim’s late father and grandfather in February and April, both big holidays in the country.

  • “It’s possible that the situation reverts to the 2017 vicious cycle of provocations and penalties,” he warned.

Pyongyang has justified the missile launches as a sovereign right to self-defence, accusing the U.S. of using double standards when it comes to weapons tests.

The unusually high rate of launches triggered a denunciation from the U.S. and a demand for further UN penalties, while Pyongyang vowed to take even more drastic measures.

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