N Korea plans nu­clear push in 2017 says top de­fec­tor

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

North Korean leader Kim JongUn is plan­ning a “prime time” nu­clear weapons push in 2017 to take ad­van­tage of lead­er­ship tran­si­tions in South Korea and the United States, a high-rank­ing de­fec­tor said yesterday. In his first press con­fer­ence since flee­ing his post as North Korea’s deputy am­bas­sador to Bri­tain in Au­gust, Thae Yong-Ho said Kim had is­sued a di­rec­tive at a rare rul­ing party congress in May to “com­plete” nu­clear de­vel­op­ment by the end of next year.

“With South Korea hold­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and the US un­der­go­ing an ad­min­is­tra­tion tran­si­tion, the North sees 2017 as the prime time for nu­clear de­vel­op­ment,” Thae told lo­cal re­porters. “That’s based on a cal­cu­la­tion that the US and South Korea will not be able to take phys­i­cal, mil­i­tary mea­sures be­cause they are tied up with do­mes­tic pol­i­tics,” he added.

North Korea car­ried out two nu­clear tests in 2016 and nu­mer­ous mis­sile launches in pur­suit of its ultimate goal of a de­ter­rent ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing a nu­clear war­head to the US main­land. An­a­lysts are di­vided as to how close Py­ongyang is to re­al­iz­ing that am­bi­tion, es­pe­cially as it has never suc­cess­fully tested an in­ter-con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile. But all agree it has made enor­mous strides in that di­rec­tion since Kim took over as leader from his fa­ther, Kim Jong-Il who died in De­cem­ber 2011.

Ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of his press con­fer­ence, Thae said Kim would never trade away the North’s nu­clear ar­se­nalno mat­ter how large a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive might be of­fered. The North Korean leader’s main aim is to open a new di­a­logue with the US from the po­si­tion of a con­firmed nu­clear power, he said.

Wash­ing­ton has re­peat­edly vowed that it would never ac­cept the North as a nu­clear state. Thae said he was ig­no­rant of how much progress the North had re­ally made with its nu­clear weapons pro­gram, say­ing such in­for­ma­tion was not given to diplo­mats. “Even the for­eign min­is­ter doesn’t know,” he added. Thae was liv­ing in Lon­don when he es­caped to the South with his wife and two sons-be­com­ing one of the high­es­trank­ing diplo­mats ever to de­fect. The North’s state media de­nounced him as “hu­man scum”, and ac­cused him of em­bez­zling state funds, rap­ing a mi­nor and spy­ing for South Korea in ex­change for money. — AFP

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