North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed “high-profile” retaliation against the U.S. and its allies for increasing United Nations sanctions against his regime, building on last week’s pledge to test a nuclear device.
Kim convened a meeting of foreign affairs and security officials on Jan. 26 to discuss the “grave situation” caused by “hostile forces,” the official Korean Central News Agency said yesterday. “The U.S. has reached its height in its anti-DPRK strategy,” KCNA said, referring to the country’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The comments reinforced the North’s Jan. 24 threat to test a nuclear weapon after the UN Security Council tightened restrictions against the totalitarian state for launching a rocket last month. The regime’s “belligerent, provocative behavior” is damaging the prospects for the “diplomatic process,” the U.S. special envoy on North Korea said today.
“We came out to the region hoping to start a new round of, let’s call it make a deal, but instead we found a North Korea that seems bent on playing a game of risk,” Glyn Davies told reporters today in Tokyo after meeting Foreign Ministry officials. “This is very dangerous.”
South Korea has spotted no unusual signs from North Korea’s military, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters today in Seoul. The North Korean leader seems to have made the comments in an effort to “build a pretext” for conducting a nuclear weapons test, the spokesman said.
The North has probably made enough progress to test a weapon in “a few weeks or less” once the leadership gives the order, according to a post on the 38 North blog of the U.S.- Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where recent satellite photos of the potential testing site were analyzed.
The Punggye-ri nuclear site, where previous detonations were conducted in 2006 and 2009, may be in a continued state of readiness, according to the website. Analysis of the area was based upon satellite imagery taken Jan. 23 and previous images, it said.
“Snowfall and subsequent clearing operations as well as tracks in the snow reveal ongoing activity at buildings and on roadways near the possible test tunnel,” 38 North reported.
Kim has worked to bolster his legitimacy by continuing his late father Kim Jong Il’s military-first policy while seeking to boost an impoverished economy since inheriting the leadership in December 2011.
“The young Kim’s declaration, on its own, echoes Kim senior’s unilateral approach to diplomacy, yet a shift in governing styles provides room for flexibility,” said Kim Yeon Su, a professor at the state-run Korea National Defense University in Seoul. “Unlike his father, Kim Jong Un has been holding many consultative meetings which hints at a possible power dispersal in the authoritarian regime.”
Kim Jong Un’s willingness to discuss matters with others may either be “proof of young ruler’s weak hold on the regime or the possible emergence of a rational decision making process among the North Korean leadership,” the professor Kim said.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry last week declared an end to the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, involving the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. They haven’t convened since December 2008.
U.S. government officials have cautioned that North Korea is aware that American reconnaissance satellites are monitoring its nuclear, missile and other military sites, and often tries to deceive them. Such deception succeeded in the case of the December rocket launch that the officials said caught the U.S. off guard after North Korea made it appear that it had delayed the launch.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Japan’s space agency successfully launched two information-gathering satellites yesterday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said in a statement on its website. The U.S. on the same day tested a three-stage ground-based missile interceptor on Jan. 27, the Missile Defense Agency said in an e-mailed statement.
North Korea has enough plutonium to produce four to eight basic nuclear weapons, according to estimates by Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea’s uranium-enrichment and other atomic facilities in 2010.
“The key to becoming a true nuclear power is securing the technology to miniaturize the warheads for delivery and to detonate a uranium device,” said Kim, the Korea National Defense University professor. “The North would not be showing progress in its nuclear weapons development without featuring enriched uranium.”