Expressing deep frustration over stalled nuclear talks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned of unspecified “shocking” action and said his country would soon reveal a new “strategic weapon” to the world as its bolstered its nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” US pressure.
Mr Kim also said North Korea was no longer obliged to maintain a self-imposed suspension on the testing of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, which President Donald Trump has touted as a major diplomatic accomplishment.
But Mr Kim gave no clear indication a resumption of such tests was impending and appeared to leave the door open for eventual negotiations.
Mr Kim has used the diplomatic stalemate to expand his military capabilities by intensifying tests of shorter-range weapons. His arsenal is now estimated to include 40-50 nuclear bombs and various delivery systems, including solid-fuel missiles designed to beat missile-defence systems, and developmental ICBMs potentially capable of reaching the US mainland.
Mr Kim has also strengthened his negotiating position, moving the diplomacy closer to an arms reduction negotiation between nuclear states rather than talks that would culminate in a unilateral surrender of the weapons he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
Lee Sang-min, spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said North Korea carrying out its threat to showcase a new strategic weapon would be unhelpful for diplomacy.
Strategic weapons usually refer to nuclear-capable delivery systems such as ICBMs, but North Korea otherwise has been vague about what new arms it would display.
It announced in December it had performed two “crucial” tests at its long-range rocket launch site that would further strengthen its nuclear deterrent.
Mr Kim’s latest comments, published in state media on Wednesday, were made at a four-day meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee as talks between Washington and Pyongyang have faltered over disagreements on disarmament steps and the removal of sanctions.
Some experts say North Korea, which has always been sensitive about changes in US government, will avoid serious negotiations in the coming months as it monitors Mr Trump’s impending impeachment trial.
Mr Kim may instead seek to strengthen his leverage by promoting a united front with Beijing and Moscow, Pyongyang’s traditional supporters, which seek to establish themselves as major stakeholders in North Korean diplomacy. Both have called for the UN Security Council to consider easing sanctions on the North to spur progress in nuclear negotiations.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General António Guterres “very much hopes that the tests will not resume,” citing existing Security Council resolutions. “Non-proliferation remains a fundamental pillar of global nuclear security and must be preserved,” the spokesman said.
Mr Kim last year had said the North would pursue a “new way” if the Trump administration did not make concessions to salvage the negotiations by the end of December.
His defiant words entering 2020 indicate his “new way” could look very much like the old one — a patient determination to wait out sanctions and pressure, which will possibly weaken over time, while cementing the country’s status as a nuclear state.
At the party meeting, Mr Kim declared the North would never give up its security for economic benefits in the face of what he described as increasing US hostility and nuclear threats, the Korean Central News Agency said.
“(Mr Kim) said that we will never allow the impudent US to abuse the DPRK-US dialogue for meeting its sordid aim but will shift to a shocking actual action to make it pay for the pains sustained by our people so far and for the development so far restrained,” the agency said, referring to the North by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Mr Kim added that “if the US persists in its hostile policy toward the DPRK, there will never be the denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the US rolls back its hostile policy,” KCNA said.
“(Mr Kim) confirmed that the world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future, declaring that we cannot give up the security of our future just for the visible economic results … now that hostile acts and nuclear threat against us are increasing,” it said.
Mr Trump on Tuesday urged Mr Kim to stick to his alleged commitment to denuclearise. After their first summit in Singapore in June 2018 the two leaders issued a vague statement on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without saying when and how it would occur.
“Look, he likes me, I like him, we get along,” Mr Trump said as he entered a New Year’s party at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
“But he did sign a contract, he did sign an agreement talking about denuclearisation … I think he’s a man of his word so we’re going to find out, but I think he’s a man of his word.”
North Korea has held to its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM testing since 2018, though last year it ended a 17-month pause in ballistic activity by testing a slew of solid-fuel weapons that potentially expanded its capabilities to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including US military bases there.