Rocket Man’s gamble
International mediation is needed to prevent a nuclear war, says a Russian lawmaker whose visit to North Korea rang alarm bells.
North Korea is preparing to test a long-range missile which it believes can reach the west coast of the United States, a Russian lawmaker who has just returned from a visit to Pyongyang was quoted as saying yesterday.
Anton Morozov, a member of the Russian lower house of parliament’s international affairs committee, and two other Russian lawmakers visited Pyongyang from October 2-6, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
‘‘They are preparing for new tests of a long-range missile. They even gave us mathematical calculations that they believe prove that their missile can hit the west coast of the United States,’’ RIA quoted Morozov as saying.
‘‘As far as we understand, they intend to launch one more longrange missile in the near future. And in general, their mood is rather belligerent.’’
Tensions have risen in recent weeks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programmes. Pyongyang has testfired several missiles and conducted what it said was a test explosion of a hydrogen bomb as it advances toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
There has also been an exchange of tough rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington.
In a speech at the United Nations, US President Donald Trump threatened to ‘‘totally destroy’’ North Korea if it threatens the US. North Korean leader Kim Jong-n responded by
calling Trump deranged and saying he would pay dearly for his threat.
Reuters was not able to independently verify Morozov’s account, and he did not specify
which North Korean officials had given him the information about the planned test.
In Washington, a US official said that there had been indications that North Korea could be preparing for a missile test on or around October 10, the anniversary of the founding of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party and a day after the Columbus Day holiday in the US.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not disclose the type of missile that could be tested, and cautioned that North Korea in the past had not staged launches despite indications that it would.
A senior CIA analyst, speaking at a conference in Washington this week, said the North Korean government was likely to stage some kind of provocation on October 10, but he did not elaborate on what form it might take.
‘‘There is a clarity of purpose in what Kim Jong-un is doing. I don’t think he’s done,’’ said Yong Suk Lee, the deputy assistant director of the CIA’s Korea Mission Centre, which was set up this year.
‘‘In fact, I told my own staff [that] October 10th is the Korean Workers’ Party founding day. That’s Tuesday in North Korea, but Monday – the Columbus Day holiday – in the United States. So stand by your phones.’’
Morozov’s delegation had ‘‘high-level’’ meetings in Pyongyang, RIA said, citing the Russian embassy in the North Korean capital.
Morozov is a member of the LDPR, a right-wing populist party. It casts itself as an opposition party but sticks close to the Kremlin line on matters of international affairs.
Describing meetings with North Korean officials, Morozov said they ‘‘displayed serious determination and bellicose rhetoric’’, RIA reported.
‘‘The situation, of course, demands the swiftest intervention of all interested states, particularly those represented in the region, in order to prevent wide-scale military action,’’ RIA quoted him as saying.
Russia has closer relations with Pyongyang than many other world powers, linked in part to Kim Ilsung, the founder of North Korea and the current leader’s grandfather, who lived for a time in the Soviet Union.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has joined other world powers in condemning North Korea’s weapons programme but has taken a softer line than Western governments.
Putin has said that Pyongyang will not be cowed into giving up its weapons programme. He has accused Washington of trying to effect regime change in North Korea, and has predicted that this would unleash chaos.