N. Korean says goals in reach
Kim touts missile test, claims weapons nearly match to U.S.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country is nearing its goal of reaching an “equilibrium” in military force with the United States, state media reported Saturday.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency carried Kim’s comments a day after the U.S. and South Korean militaries detected the missile launch from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
It traveled 2,300 miles as it passed over the Japanese island of Hokkaido before landing in the northern Pacific Ocean. It was the country’s longest-ever test flight of a ballistic missile.
North Korea confirmed the missile was an intermediate-range Hwasong-12, the same model launched over Japan on Aug. 29.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim expressed great satisfaction over the launch, which he said verified the “combat efficiency and reliability” of the missile and the success of efforts to increase its power.
The report quoted Kim as declaring the missile as operationally ready. He vowed to complete his nuclear weapons program in the face of strengthening international sanctions, the news agency said.
Photos published by state media showed the missile being fired from a truck-mounted launcher and Kim smiling, clapping and raising his fist while celebrating from an observation point. It was the first time North Korea showed the missile being launched directly from a vehicle, which experts said indicated confidence about the mobility and reliability of the system. In previous tests, North Korea used trucks to transport and erect the Hwasong-12s, but it moved the missiles on separate firing tables before launching them.
Kim stressed the need for the ability to launch a “nuclear counterattack the U.S. cannot cope with,” according to the Korean Central News Agency. This statement echoed previous assertions that North Korea is not seeking to attack first, but rather is aiming to develop the ability to strike back.
Kim said his country has nearly completed the building of its nuclear weapons force. He also noted that North Korea had been able to make rapid progress on its nuclear and missile programs despite more than a decade of international sanctions aimed at cutting off its ability to produce the parts and funding it needed.
“We should clearly show the big power chauvinists how our state attain[s] the goal of completing its nuclear force despite their limitless sanctions and blockade,” Kim told members of his elite missile unit. North Korea has historically used the term “big power chauvinist” to refer to China.
“As recognized by the whole world, we have made all these achievements despite the U.N. sanctions that have lasted for decades,” the news agency quoted Kim as saying.
Kim said the country’s final goal “is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the U.S. and make the U.S. rulers dare not talk about military option for the DPRK,” referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
He indicated that more missile tests would be forthcoming, saying that all future drills should be “meaningful and practical ones for increasing the combat power of the nuclear force” to establish an order in the deployment of nuclear warheads for “actual war.”
Before the launches over Japan, North Korea had threatened to fire a salvo of Hwasong-12s toward Guam, the U.S. Pacific island territory and military hub that the North has called an “advanced base of invasion.”
The U.N. Security Council accused North Korea of undermining regional peace and security by launching the latest missile over Japan, adding that the country’s nuclear and missile tests “have caused grave security concerns around the world” and threaten all 193 U.N. member states.
Under Kim’s watch, North Korea has maintained a torrid pace for weapons tests, including its most powerful nuclear test to date, on Sept. 3, as well as two July flight tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could strike deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.
In its Sept. 3 nuclear test, North Korea said it had detonated a thermonuclear weapon built for its ICBMs.
In tests of its ballistic missiles, the Hwasong-12 and the Hwasong-14 were initially fired at highly lofted angles to reduce their range and avoid neighboring countries. The two Hwasong-12 launches over Japan indicate North Korea is moving toward evaluating whether its warheads can survive the harsh conditions of atmospheric re-entry and detonate properly.
While some experts believe North Korea would need to conduct more tests to confirm the Hwasong-12’s accuracy and reliability, Kim’s latest comments indicate the country will soon move toward mass-producing the missiles for operational deployment, said Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies. He also said that the North is likely planning similar test launches of its Hwasong-14 missile.
The increasingly frequent and aggressive tests have added to outside fears that the North is closer than ever to building a military arsenal that could viably target the U.S. and its allies in Asia. The tests are also seen as North Korea’s attempt to win greater military freedom in the region and raise doubts in South Korea and Japan over whether the U.S. would risk the annihilation of a U.S. city to protect them.
The latest launch drew condemnation from around the world, with the U.N. Security Council stressing in a statement after an emergency meeting Friday that all countries must “fully, comprehensively and immediately” implement all U.N. sanctions.
On Monday, the Security Council imposed its toughest sanctions to date against North Korea, setting limits on its oil imports and banning its textile exports. But the new sanctions were a compromise. To win the support of China and Russia, the United States had to tone down its demands, which included a total oil embargo and a global travel ban on Kim.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday renewed those demands, urging China to use its role as the main exporter of oil to North Korea to force Kim to abandon his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
China on Friday rebuffed the U.S. demands, saying instead that it was American leaders who needed to tone down their rhetoric and head to the negotiating table.
China will implement all Security Council resolutions, “no more, no less,” Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the U.S., told reporters at a briefing in Washington when asked whether China would cut oil shipments. Any further steps would need to be worked out with the agreement of the entire Security Council, he said.
Cui said the U.S., not China, needed to take more responsibility for the issue.
“They cannot just leave the issue to China alone, and honestly I think the United States should be doing more, much more than now, so that there is real effective international cooperation on this issue,” Cui said.
He said the U.S. should “find an effective way to resume dialogue and negotiation.”
But South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who initially pushed for talks with North Korea, said last week that the North’s persistent tests currently make dialogue “impossible.”
“If North Korea provokes us or our allies, we have the strength to smash the attempt at an early stage and inflict a level of damage it would be impossible to recover from,” said Moon, who ordered his military to conduct a live-fire ballistic missile drill in response to the North Korean launch.
North Koreans watch the launch of a Hwasong-12 ballistic rocket as it’s shown on a television screen Saturday at a train station in Pyongyang.