Kim Jong Un Shows Off North Korea Missiles With World on Edgeby
Senior regime official says country is ready for nuclear war
Pence to arrive in South Korea on Sunday as tensions mount
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw an elaborate military parade in the center of Pyongyang on Saturday as the world watched for any provocations that risk sparking a conflict with the U.S.
Wearing a Western-style black suit and white collared shirt, Kim was pictured on state-run television laughing heartily and clapping while watching soldiers, tanks and missiles on display in Kim Il Sung Square. The event marked the 105th birth anniversary of Kim’s grandfather, the nation’s founder, North Korea’s most important holiday.
“If the U.S. provokes recklessly, the revolutionary forces will take an annihilating strike,” Choe Ryong Hae, a senior regime official, said in a speech at the parade. North Korea is ready for a nuclear or full-scale war if the U.S. wants it, he added.
The military parade displayed submarine-launched ballistic missiles for the first time and what appeared to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile, in addition to others that have already been publicly unveiled, South Korea’s Yonhap News reported. In 2012, North Korea unveiled long-range missiles that some arms analysts dismissed as fake.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said that the isolated nation showed more new systems than in past parades.
“The North Koreans are committed to deploying a credible nuclear deterrent that is capable of deterring an attack and repelling an invasion. We saw a lot of the new systems they are developing to make good on that commitment,” he said.
Tensions have risen in the past week after President Donald Trump’s administration sent warships toward North Korea and threatened to act alone if Kim’s regime proceeds with a nuclear or ballistic missile test. China urged all sides to back down on Friday, warning that a war on the Korean Peninsula would have devastating consequences.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is set to arrive in South Korea on Sunday as part of a 10-day swing through Asia that also includes a stop in Japan.
A statement by the White House showed he’ll mostly be dealing with business issues, but administration officials said Thursday Pence will also discuss economic sanctions and military options for North Korea if a provocation by North Korea occurs.
While not publicly defining its plans, the White House has said that all options are on the table to prevent North Korea from acquiring the ability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. Despite the saber rattling, Trump has found little support -- publicly or behind the scenes -- from friends in the region.
Any U.S. military strike risks leading to a war between the world’s biggest economies -- one that may devastate South Korea and Japan, two American allies in striking range of retaliatory attacks. China has backed North Korea since the peninsula was last at war in the 1950s, in part to prevent having an American ally on its border.
A U.S. strike may prompt North Korea to unleash artillery fire on Seoul and surrounding areas, home to over half of South Korea’s 51 million people, according to a report published in 2016 by the geopolitical analysts Stratfor. It then may activate air or naval assets and larger ballistic missiles that can target South Korean, Japanese or American bases in the region with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The White House expects South Korean officials to discuss responses during Pence’s visit. The vice president also plans to meet troops and discuss possible military steps with Army General Vincent Brooks, the commander of United States Forces Korea. He may promote the deployment of the Thaad missile-defense system in the region, a move that has annoyed China.
Pence’s trip comes days after Trump dispatched the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its battle group to the waters around the Korean Peninsula. Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site obtained by 38 North, a program devoted to analysis of the country at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, showed activity at the site suggestive of preparations for a nuclear test.
“North Korea is a problem,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “The problem will be taken care of.”
Still, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly played down the threat posed by North Korea to the U.S. in an interview to air Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” while saying authorities would err on the side of caution if needed.
“A kinetic threat against the United States right now I don’t think is likely, but certainly a cyber threat,” Kelly said in an excerpt provided by the network. “We would raise various threat levels in the event that something happened and we felt as though there was a possible threat.”
While Trump has ratcheted up pressure on China to contain its neighbor and ally, he’s also sought to build bridges in recent weeks with President Xi Jinping. Trump on Wednesday highlighted China’s move to ban coal imports from North Korea, noting that a fleet of cargo ships had turned back.
“That’s a big step, and they have many other steps that I know about,” Trump said. He later said he thought Xi “means well and I think he wants to help.”
The Global Times, a Communist Party-affiliated Chinese newspaper, said in an editorial this week that Beijing should support stiffer UN sanctions against North Korea, including the limit of oil exports, if the country conducts another another nuclear test.
Even so, China is getting increasingly alarmed at the brinkmanship. Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged all parties on Friday “to stop provoking and threatening each other and not to make the situation irretrievable,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
“Once a war really happens, the result will be nothing but losing all round and no one could become a winner,” Wang said. “No matter who the nation is, if it continues to provoke wars in the Peninsula, it has to bear this historical responsibility and pay its price.”