Kim Jong Un has vowed to continue North Korea’s nuclear programme and to introduce a “new strategic weapon”, after his year-end deadline for the US to make some concessions passed without any sign of progress.
The North Korean leader, who had been widely expected to make a New Year’s Day national address referring to Pyongyang’s threat to deliver an unwelcome “Christmas gift” to the US, instead blasted Washington for making “gangster-like demands” at a meeting of the ruling Workers party, according to state media.
While making these demands, the US was continuing its joint military drills with South Korea, deploying new weapons in its next door neighbour and maintaining economic sanctions against his impoverished country, Mr Kim said
“Under such conditions, there are no grounds for us to be unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer,” North Korea’s official KCNA quoted Mr Kim on Wednesday as saying at the party meeting, referring to the regime’s self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. “The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] in the near future.”
Mr Kim did not clarify what the new strategic weapon was, or when it would be deployed.
Earlier in the four-day meeting, Mr Kim had said he might have to seek a “new path” if Washington failed to show flexibility in denuclearisation talks by the year-end deadline.
Tension has been rising in recent weeks after North Korea fired a series of short-range missiles and ratcheted up its bellicose rhetoric.
The negotiations over denuclearisation have made little progress despite three face-to-face meetings between Mr Kim and Donald Trump — the first in Singapore in June 2018. Pyongyang is seeking phased sanctions relief in return for a managed reduction in its weapons programmes. But Washington wants a total dismantling of North Korea’s weapons programme before any reduction of sanctions can begin.
Mr Kim urged North Koreans to brace for an “arduous and prolonged struggle”, promising a “shocking actual action to make [the US] pay for the pains sustained by our people so far and for the development so far restrained,” according to KCNA.
Mr Trump reacted quickly, calling on Mr Kim to refrain from any further provocation. He added that the North Korean leader was a “man of his word” and insisted they still had a good relationship.
However, Mr Kim’s latest comments have increased worries about a looming return to dangerous military escalations by Pyongyang. “They are likely to return to the pre-talks period of higher tensions as North Korea steps up its provocations to pile pressure on Washington,” said Kim Jae-chun, a professor at Sogang University and a former adviser to the government in Seoul.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said that Mr Kim was trying to buy time with his nuclear blackmail. “Kim looks to elicit concessions by approaching Trump’s red line without crossing it.”