North Korea’s young dictator issued several disconcerting warnings to the West in his New Year’s Day address Sunday.
Kim Jong-un vowed to strengthen North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and claimed the country is on track to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
“Unless the U.S. and its vassal forces stop nuclear threat and blackmail and unless they stop the war exercises which they stage right at our noses under the pretext of annual exercises, the DPRK would keep increasing the military capabilities for self-defense and preemptive striking capacity with nuclear force as a pivot,” Kim explained.
He declared the North “a nuclear and military power in the East” and promised to build North Korea into an “invincible fortress.”
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and numerous missile tests, in violation of international regulations and restrictions, over the past decade, but it has never flight-tested an ICBM.
“We have reached the final stage of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Kim said. “Research and development of cutting edge arms equipment is actively progressing,” he added.
While the North has not yet tested an ICBM, experts believe the satellite launch in February 2016, just after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, was a test of ICBM technology in disguise. South Korean defense officials said that the rocket, were it reconfigured as an ICBM, could strike targets over 7,000 miles away, putting the U.S. in range.
Pyongyang claimed in April 2016 that it successfully tested a long-range missile engine that would “guarantee” the ability to launch a nuclear strike on the U.S. Kim said the North “can tip new-type intercontinental ballistic rockets with more powerful nuclear warheads and keep any cesspools of evils in the Earth, including the U.S. mainland, within our striking range.”
The North announced in September last year that it had carried out another long-range rocket engine test capable of advancing its space and satellite program. The rocket engine test is also suspected to have been a cover for the testing of banned ICBM technology.
It is unclear how close the North is to actually testing an ICBM. North Korea conducted eight intermediate-range missile tests last year with only one reported success.
Suspected North Korean ICBMs KN-08 and KN-14 are untested.
North Korea has been under United Nations sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile tests since 2006. Harsher sanctions were implemented recently after the North’s fifth nuclear test in early September last year.
“We call on all states to use every available channel and means of influence to make clear to the DPRK and its enablers that launches using ballistic missile technology are unacceptable, and take steps to show there are consequences to the DPRK’s unlawful conduct,” U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Anna Richey-Allen told Yonhap News Agency.
She encouraged Pyongyang “to refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric that threaten international peace and stability.”
South Korea also criticized the North for its continued pursuit of ICBMs and enhanced nuclear capabilities.
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