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NKorea Slams US, Hints Resuming Tests  01/20 06:05

   

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Accusing the United States of hostility and 
threats, North Korea on Thursday said it will consider restarting "all 
temporally-suspended activities" it had paused during its diplomacy with the 
Trump administration, in an apparent threat to resume testing of nuclear 
explosives and long-range missiles.

   North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong Un 
presided over a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party where officials 
set policy goals for "immediately bolstering" military capabilities to counter 
the Americans' "hostile moves."

   Officials gave instructions to "reconsider in an overall scale the 
trust-building measures that we took on our own initiative ... and to promptly 
examine the issue of restarting all temporally-suspended activities," the KCNA 
said.

   Experts say Kim is reviving an old playbook of brinkmanship to extract 
concessions from Washington and neighbors as he grapples with a decaying 
economy crippled by the pandemic, mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions over his 
nuclear ambitions.

   The North has been ramping up its weapons demonstrations recently, including 
four rounds of missile launches just this month, in an apparent effort to 
pressure Washington over a prolonged freeze in nuclear diplomacy.

   The North's Foreign Ministry had already warned of stronger action after the 
Biden administration last week imposed fresh sanctions over its continued 
missile tests. The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed-door meeting for 
Thursday to discuss North Korea and non-proliferation matters.

   South Korea said its military was closely monitoring the North as it urged 
its rival to return to dialogue.

   China, North Korea's main ally, repeated its denouncement of U.S. sanctions 
through a Foreign Ministry briefing on Thursday, calling them a source of 
tension on the Korean Peninsula. China has avoided criticizing the North over 
its recent missile launches and endorsed a return to multinational disarmament 
talks hosted by Beijing that have stalled since 2008.

   Kim announced a unilateral suspension of his nuclear and intercontinental 
ballistic missile tests in 2018, as he initiated talks with then-President 
Donald Trump in an attempt to leverage his nukes for badly needed economic 
benefits.

   Their summits followed a provocative run in North Korean nuclear and 
intercontinental range ballistic missile testing in 2017 that demonstrated 
Kim's pursuit of an arsenal that can target the American homeland. He also 
exchanged threats of nuclear annihilation with Trump.

   But negotiations have stalled since their second summit in 2019, when the 
Americans rejected North Korea's demand for major sanctions relief in exchange 
for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

   At the end of that year, Kim returned to familiar threats and said the North 
was no longer obligated to maintain its suspension on nuclear and ICBM tests, 
which Trump touted as a major achievement.

   However, the pandemic thwarted many of Kim's economic goals as the North 
imposed a lockdown and halted most of its trade with China.

   North Korea appeared this month to have resumed railroad freight traffic 
with China that had been suspended for two years.

   It conducted its sixth and last test of a nuclear explosive device in 
September 2017. and its last launch of an ICBM was in November that year.

   Some experts say that the North could dramatically raise the ante in weapons 
demonstrations after the end of February's Winter Olympics in Beijing. They say 
Pyongyang's leadership likely feels it could use a dramatic provocation to move 
the needle with the Biden administration, which has offered open-ended talks 
but showed no willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to 
abandon his nuclear and missile program.

   Saying that U.S. hostility has reached a "danger line" that can no longer be 
overlooked, the North Korean Politburo members called for practical measures to 
"more reliably and effectively increase our physical strength for defending 
dignity, sovereign rights and interests of our state," the KCNA said.

   They criticized United States of continuing its military exercises with 
South Korea and arming its ally with advanced weaponry and claimed -- 
apparently falsely -- that Washington is continuing to send strategic assets to 
the region to pressure the North.

   The United States since 2018 has dramatically scaled down its combined 
exercises with South Korea, which have mostly been reduced to computer 
simulations, to make room for diplomacy with North Korea and over COVID-19 
concerns.

   Duyeon Kim, an analyst at Washington's Center for a New American Security, 
said North Korea's claim of U.S. hostility is a pretext for continuing testing.

   "Pyongyang is squarely focused on meeting its nuclear weapons milestones 
because of its military imperative to do so. This means more tests to come," 
she said. "The pandemic has bought Pyongyang ample time to continue developing 
nuclear weapons because North Korea closed its borders and has been refusing 
direct talks, afraid of importing the virus."

   Kim Jong Un in recent years had showcased some new weapons he may wish to 
test, including what appeared to be North Korea's largest ICBM that was rolled 
out during a military parade in October 2020.

   He also issued an ambitious wish list of sophisticated weaponry early last 
year while setting a five-year plan to develop military forces, which included 
hypersonic missiles, solid-fuel ICBMs, spy satellites and submarine-launched 
nuclear missiles.

   If the North does stage another nuclear test, it may use it to claim it 
acquired an ability to build a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a 
purported hypersonic missile it tested twice so far this year, experts say.

   Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five North 
Koreans over their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the 
country's missile programs.

   The State Department ordered sanctions against another North Korean, a 
Russian man and a Russian company for their broader support of North Korea's 
weapons of mass destruction activities. The Biden administration also said it 
would pursue additional U.N. sanctions over the North's tests.

 
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