After UN Loss, North Korea Threatens to Go Nuclear Again

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un inspects a factory in this photo provided by Korean Central News Agency on Nov. 15 Photograph by KCNA/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Kim Jong Un tried. The North Korean leader last month emerged out of his mysterious, weekslong absence from public view, apparently determined to improve his country’s image worldwide and avoid further embarrassment at the United Nations. With that in mind, Young Kim gave his diplomats permission to depart from normal North Korean practice and actually lobby at the U.N., haggling with diplomats over the wording of a resolution highly critical of North Korea’s human-rights record.

As part of its campaign to appear reasonable, the regime on Nov. 8 released two U.S. citizens it was holding in labor camps. The North Koreans even talked about the possibility of a human-rights investigator from the UN visiting the country for the first time.

And what did Kim get for all of his efforts? Not only did North Korea lose the vote on Tuesday, but it lost overwhelmingly. His smile campaign managed to persuade only a handful of members to switch sides. In 2011, the last time the General Assembly voted on an anti-Pyongyang resolution, a total of 16 countries (out of 193 members) voted no. This time, North Korea managed to get 19 no votes. ”The North Korean charm offensive appears to have had little effect,” Stephen Haggard, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, wrote yesterday at the Peterson Institute for International Economics blog North Korea: Witness to Transformation.

Now comes the backlash from Kim, who can retaliate by ramping up the country’s nuclear program. North Korea has tested its nuclear arsenal three times since 2006, most recently last year. Today, the North Korean news agency published a statement from the foreign ministry, threatening to conduct another nuclear test and vowing to bolster its war deterrent “without limits.”  The regime also appears to be restarting a plutonium production reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear center, Johns Hopkins University’s North Korea blog 38 North reported yesterday.

While a nuke test may be just down the road, the North Koreans for now are letting loose with another powerful tool in their arsenal: scare quotes. In a statement yesterday attacking the investigation by the U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry, the Korean Central News Agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said “the ‘report of the Commission of Inquiry’ referred to in the ‘draft resolution’ is only based on the fabricated ‘testimonies’ of such a handful of ‘defectors’ as unable to specify the numbers.”

As for Kim himself, he may not be popular at the UN, but he can at least bask in his people’s love for the three generations of his family to rule the country since its founding after World War II. Even as North Korea was suffering a stunning rebuke in New York, he was waxing nostalgic during a visit to a fishery station. “There hangs a strong smell of fishes in the compound of the station,” said Kim, according to a KCNA report. “This is the precious fruition of feelings of loyalty of the officials and employees of the station to the party as they share the will and intention with the supreme commander to provide the servicepersons with fish everyday.”

“How pleased President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il would have been if they had seen this fantastic scenery,” he added. “The big fish hauls make me think of their devoted services to the country and the people.”

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