Pyongyang underscored its “sovereign right” to launch satellites and suggested that U.S. actions could influence the possibility of a fourth nuclear test, a spokesperson for North Korea’s foreign ministry said at an ASEAN press conference on Thursday.
Ri Tong Il, the DPRK’s former deputy ambassador to the UN, said that ongoing satellite launches contributed to North Korea’s scientific and economic development and described Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development as a defensive strategy.
“Satellites will continue to fly into outer space with sovereignty, dignity and national pride of the country in the middle of blessing of international community,” Ri said in comments made in Kuala Lumpur, carried by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Should Washington continue its “hell-bent” effort to provoke North Korea, Ri said that Pyongyang might be forced to conduct a fourth nuclear test, something that would bolster his country’s “high-precision miniaturized nuclear forces to operational level.”
“Nobody will feel safe if somebody comes up with massive, more sophisticated nuclear weapons,” Ri said, possibly alluding to threats his government made last year to conduct a “new form” of nuclear test.
In particular, Ri described the annual U.S. and South Korean joint-military drills as why Pyongyang felt threatened, justifying its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The remarks, which come amid widening suspicions that North Korea will conduct a satellite launch to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) in October, were described by one observer as an attempt to blackmail the U.S.
“This statement is another attempt by the Songun Korean government to use its nuclear capabilities for coercion,” said Daniel Pinkston, the International Crisis Group’s deputy project director for Northeast Asia.
“Songun” refers to North Korea’s military-first policy, introduced under current leader Kim Jong Un’s father Kim Jong Il.
“They are in the early stages of learning and they will continue to learn that these awkward attempts at nuclear blackmail will never succeed,” Pinkston said, dismissing North Korean perceptions of the threat of joint military drills as “nonsense.”
John Grisafi, NK News director for intelligence, said regardless of the U.S. response to the threats, there was much to suggest that Pyongyang would go ahead with a satellite launch anyway.
“Given that Pyongyang consistently claims space research is peaceful and the sovereign right of a country, I doubt North Korea will wait for something to happen to justify a satellite launch as some sort of response or retaliation,” Grisafi said.
“They are probably planning one already for sometime this year, with it being the 70th anniversary of both the party founding and the end of the Japanese occupation and considering the North has recently upgraded their launch facility at Sohae.”
North Korea last conducted a satellite launch in December 2012, which resulted in UN sanctions prompting Pyongyang to conduct a third nuclear test in February 2013, an act that itself contributed to a significant escalation of inter-Korean tensions.
Pinkston noted that in the emerging security environment, a further nuclear test could actually go against spokesperson Ri’s stated goal of contributing to North Korea’s self-defense.
“They are playing with fire…their actions and behavior could make the Songun Korean leadership more vulnerable to a decapitation strike in the case of a crisis, and therefore, less – not more – secure,” Pinkston said.
Picture: Korea Pictorial
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