North Korea said Saturday it was bent on nothing less than military “equilibrium” with arch-enemy the United States with a full nuclear arsenal, forcing UN powers into fresh crisis talks.
Kim Jong-Un successfully fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan on Friday, responding to the latest round of UN embargos over its sixth nuclear test with its furthest-ever missile flight.
The UN Security Council, which has condemned the launch as “highly provocative,” will hold a new ministerial-level meeting Thursday on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, focused on enforcing sanctions on Kim’s regime, diplomats said.
North Korea’s young leader said Friday’s launch had increased the North’s “combat power of the nuclear force”.
“Our final goal is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the US and make the US rulers dare not talk about military option for the DPRK,” he said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim said the country was close to the goal of completing its nuclear ambitions and should use all power at its disposal to finish the task, saying it had “nearly reached the terminal”, KCNA reported.
“We should clearly show the big power chauvinists how our state attains the goal of completing its nuclear force despite their limitless sanctions and blockade,” Kim said, according to KCNA.
The Security Council this week imposed a new raft of sanctions on Pyongyang, slapping an export ban on textiles, freezing work permits to North Korean guest workers and placing a cap on oil supplies.
But the impact of those sanctions depends largely on whether China, Pyongyang’s ally and main economic partner, will fully implement them and on Russia, which is hosting tens of thousands of North Korean workers.
The United States called for Thursday’s meeting of the Security Council, to be held during the annual General Assembly gathering of world leaders at the UN.
President Donald Trump will also meet the leaders of Japan and South Korea on the sidelines of the General Assembly to address the crisis.
– ‘Imminent threat’ –
The US Pacific Command confirmed Friday’s rocket was an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) and said the launch did not pose a threat to North America or to the US Pacific territory of Guam, which Pyongyang has threatened with “enveloping fire”.
Seoul’s defence ministry said it probably travelled around 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 770 kilometres.
“The combat reliability of Hwasong-12 was thoroughly verified,” Kim was quoted as saying by star TV presenter Ri Chun-Hee, who appears when North Korea wants to boast of its achievements or needs to make an important announcement.
North Korea’s official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun allocated half its coverage to pictures of the launch.
Yang Uk, an analyst with the Korea Defence and Security Forum, told AFP that Kim’s stated ambition of achieving a military balance with Washington was some way off.
“It’s too unrealistic for North Korea to reach equilibrium in nuclear force with the US,” he said.
The North has raised global tensions with its rapid progress in weapons technology under Kim, who is regularly pictured by state media overseeing launches and visiting facilities.
“The latest launch, which was apparently made from a TEL (transporter erector launcher or missile vehicle) instead of a makeshift launch pad, means the North is now ready to deploy the IRBM Hwasong-12 for combat purposes,” Yang said.
“The North appears to have resolved technical difficulties in launching the missiles from TELs. With its mobility being increased, Hwasong-12 poses an imminent threat to the US and its allies in the region,” he said.
The North’s previous missile launch, a Hwasong-12 IRBM just over two weeks ago, also overflew Japan’s main islands and was the first to do so for years.
“Within three to five years, the North is expected to be capable of operating nuclear missiles as deterrence,” Yang added.
– Calls for talks –
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron jointly appealed Friday for a resumption of direct talks with North Korea, as the only way out of the crisis.
While Russia and China both backed this week’s US-drafted sanctions resolution, they have been pushing a proposal to kick-start talks with North Korea with a freeze on the country’s nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a suspension of US-South Korea military drills.
But the United States has rejected the proposal as “insulting” and maintains it will only enter into talks with Pyongyang if it halts all missile and nuclear tests unilaterally.
In response to Friday’s launch, South Korea’s military immediately carried out a ballistic missile drill of its own, with the defence ministry saying it took place while the North’s rocket was still airborne.
President Moon Jae-In told an emergency meeting of Seoul’s national security council that dialogue with the North was “impossible in a situation like this”.
But unless something changes, it is likely the tests will continue, said professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies.
“There is a high possibility that the North may test-fire another ICBM by the end of this year to prove it has mastered the technology,” he said.