N.K. leader says no reason to keep moratorium on ICBM tests, warns of ‘new strategic weapon’

SEOUL-- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he sees no reason to stick to his commitment to suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests and will soon show off a "new strategic weapon," accusing the United States of stalling for time for its own political interests, according to state media Wednesday.

Kim, however, appeared to have left room for negotiations as he also said during a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party that how much the North will bolster its "nuclear deterrent" will depend on the future U.S. attitude.

Kim said it was part of his efforts to build confidence with the U.S. that he suspended tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), but Washington responded with joint military exercises with South Korea and more sanctions on Pyongyang.

"Under such condition, there is no ground for us to get unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer, the commitment to which there is no opposite party, and this is chilling our efforts for worldwide nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation," the KCNA quoted Kim as saying during the party meeting.

Kim also said the North should "more actively push forward the project for developing strategic weapons" and "the world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future," according to the KCNA.

The DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Hours later, U.S. President Donald Trump said he believes Kim will keep his promise to denuclearize.

"I have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un," Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida as he arrived for a New Year's Eve party.

"But he did sign a contract. He did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization, and that was signed -- number one sentence: denuclearization. That was done in Singapore. I think he's a man of his word. So, we're going to find out. But I think he's a man of his word," he said.

Kim said the U.S.' "real intention is to seek its own political and diplomatic interests while wasting time away under the signboard of dialogue and negotiations and at the same time keep sanctions" to weaken his country.

He also accused the U.S. of taking a "brigandish attitude" in their negotiations with demands hurting "the fundamental interests of our state." Even if sanctions relief is necessary for economic development, the North "can never sell our dignity," Kim said.

"We can not give up the security of our future just for the visible economic results and happiness and comfort in reality now that hostile acts and nuclear threat against us are increasing," Kim said, according to the KCNA.

Kim warned of a "shocking actual action" to make the U.S. pay for abusing denuclearization talks, but he also hinted that Pyongyang has not completely abandoned negotiations, saying that its future action could depend upon the U.S. attitude.

"We will reliably put on constant alert the powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the U.S. and guaranteeing our long-term security, noting that the scope and depth of bolstering our deterrent will be properly coordinated depending on the U.S. future attitude to the DPRK," Kim was quoted as saying.

Kim also said that there will "never be the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula," and the North will continue to develop strategic weapons "until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK and lasting and durable peace-keeping mechanism is built."

Denuclearization talks have been stalled since the second summit between Kim and Trump ended without an agreement due to wide differences over how to match Pyongyang's denuclearization measures and Washington's sanctions relief.

The two sides held working-level talks in October, but failed to narrow their differences.

Experts say that North Korea could resume tests of an upgraded ICBM or a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) as a "new strategic weapon. Adding to the speculation, the North conducted what appears to be an engine test at its west coast satellite launch site last month.

North Korean last test-fired an ICBM in late 2017. It conducted its last and sixth nuclear test in September of the same year. In April 2018, North Korea said it had declared a moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests and Kim held his first-ever summit with U.S. President Donald Trump two months later.

An ICBM test would represent a blow to Trump as he has boasted of their suspension as one of his great diplomatic achievements. Trump has warned North Korea against such provocations, saying it could lose everything.

The North said in response it has nothing more to lose.

Experts said the North appears to be threatening to cross a "red line" but apparently left room for the two sides to find diplomatic solution to the current standoff.

"Lifting the moratorium does not necessarily mean that an immediate strategic provocation will take place," said Cho Seong-ryoul, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with South Korea's spy agency.

"I think North Korea has not expressed an intention for an immediate provocation. In that, the North appears to have left room for negotiations," he added.

South Korea urged the North not to carry out its threatened test of a "new strategic weapon," saying that such an act would not help denuclearization negotiations and efforts to build peace on the Korean Peninsula.

In a statement, the unification ministry here said that the government pays attention to North Korea not declaring an end to talks with the United States and expressed hope for "substantial progress" by holding talks as soon as possible.

Kim also stressed the importance of self-reliance and belt-tightening to cope with U.S.-led sanctions.

"We should never dream that the U.S. and the hostile forces would leave us alone to live in peace, but we should make a frontal breakthrough with the might of self-reliance to tide over the difficulties lying in the way of advancing the socialist construction," he said.

"It is our firm revolutionary faith to defend the country's dignity and defeat imperialism through self-prosperity even though we tighten our belts."

At the forefront of building a self-reliant economy is science and technology, he said, calling it an "inexhaustible strategic asset" that should be "the light that brightens the way ahead in fighting "manifold hardships in the economic work."

Kim did not mention any policy with regard to South Korea, apparently reflecting the recently chilled inter-Korean relations amid lack of progress in denuclearization talks.

Meanwhile, the North Korean leader appears to be skipping his annual New Year's Day address amid speculation that the speech could be replaced by his remarks during the rare four-day party meeting held until Tuesday.

Kim has not skipped his New Year's Day speech since taking office in late 2011. Last January, he in a western-style suit made a speech broadcasted in a prerecorded footage.

Pyongyang's state TV broadcast an almost hourlong report on Kim's remarks during the party meeting but made no mention of his annual speech. Nor did the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling party, and the KCNA mention his New Year's Day message coming up.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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