North Korea Threatens To Resume Nuclear Tests
According to AP, North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, Choe Son-hui, announced on March 15 that the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, “will soon decide whether to continue diplomatic talks and maintain his moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests.” This remark came two weeks after the summit between North Korea and the United States held in Hanoi, Vietnam concluded without agreement.
In the briefing, Choe alleged that the United States is “being too demanding and inflexible” in its negotiations. She criticized the United States’ demand that North Korea denuclearize before any sanctions against it are eased. Choe claimed that North Korea was only seeking to lift the sanctions directed at its civilian economy, not all sanctions. This opposes President Donald Trump’s description of the North Korean position as wanting “the sanctions lifted in their entirety” in a news conference following the abrupt end of the Hanoi summit, reports the Washington Post.
Officials at the State Department have clarified North Korea’s request but said that lifting such sanctions would “essentially subsidize the North’s continued nuclear activity.”
In addition, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed Choe’s remarks hours after the briefing, noting that he expects Kim to keep his promise by maintaining the moratorium, according to the Hill.
The New York Times reports that Kim Jong-un announced the moratorium in April 2018, only days prior to the historic first summit meeting between him and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Panmunjom. The moratorium came a year after North Korea conducted a series of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests that at the time aggravated tensions with its neighbors, particularly South Korea and Japan, as well as the United States.
Following the Hanoi summit’s breakdown, South Korean intelligence indicated that North Korea appears to be rebuilding its Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri, reported the New York Times. North Korea previously began dismantling the complex after the first Singapore summit meeting between the two leaders in June 2018, and Kim offered to destroy the missile-test facilities in the presence of American experts while at a meeting with Moon in September 2018.
According to the Washington Post, North Korea has depicted the Tongchang-ri site as a space launch center and has used its facilities to launch rockets carrying satellites. However, it is also North Korea’s largest missile engine test site, and satellite launches using the site have been controversial. A 2012 agreement between North Korea and the United States, where North Korea promised a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing in exchange for food aid, broke down after the United States accused a North Korean satellite launch as having used ballistic missile technology, and thus breaching UN sanctions.