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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korea’s foreign ministry on Wednesday condemned a recently-announced February 13 subcritical nuclear test by the U.S., slamming the move as proof of Washington’s bad faith intentions at the failed Hanoi summit later that month.
With the test, the U.S. “showcased its ulterior intention that it seeks a strength-based solution of the issues, though outwardly it advocates for dialogue,” the Policy Research Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Institute for American Studies (IAS) said in a press statement.
The test, they added, “arouses grave concern and denunciation of the international society.”
The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced on May 24 that the experiment “took place deep below the desert floor” and was “aimed at capturing high-fidelity plutonium data in support of nuclear stockpile safety.”
It explained that subcritical experiments produce no yield, but would “allow researchers to study how nuclear materials react to high explosives without conducting a traditional nuclear test.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also admitted to the country’s use of the type of nuclear experiments last April in a speech laying out Pyongyang’s “new strategic line.”
“We solemnly declare that we have realized nuclear weaponization with credit by carrying out subcritical and underground nuclear tests,” Kim said as he promised to “discontinue nuclear test and intercontinental ballistic missile test-fire.”
It is unclear if North Korea continues to conduct subcritical tests.
The Monday IAS statement took particular issue with the timing of the U.S. test, saying “what should be taken serious is the fact that the subcritical nuclear test was carried out just prior to the Hanoi DPRK-U.S. Summit.”
Here, it added, was where the two sides were set to “discuss the issue of building a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.”
But the foreign minister official appears to consider the test, as well as other actions, a violation of the Singapore Joint Statement signed between President Trump and Kim Jong Un last June.
It specifically compared the first of four points of the agreement – declaring the two “commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations” – with statements from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, implying their “abusive language” ran counter to the agreement.
The Singapore Agreement in general “is not within the consideration of the United States,” Monday’s statement said.
The IAS perceives “no change at all in the American evil ambition to conquer the DPRK by force,” it added.
Various political, military, and economic “hostile acts” were also listed, which the MFA official said only add “tension to the already unstable Korean peninsula and inviting adverse current.”
The economic “hostile acts” included enacting 11 “arbitrary sanctions … on more than 40 entities and individuals from several countries,” changing “the regulations on the anti-DPRK sanctions,’ and making “public ‘advisories’ of all hues on several times.”
Military provocations listed included joint U.S.-ROK military exercises, U.S. missile interception tests, and the deployment of missiles it perceives could carry nuclear warheads and be in striking range of North Korean territory.
While no direct threats were included, the MFA IAS statement ended with an implicit one, saying the “use of strength is not at all a monopoly of the United States.”
Minyoung Lee, a North Korean media expert and analyst with NK News’s sister site NK Pro, said the press statement was “the latest in a significantly increased volume” coming from the MFA since Kim Jong Un’s guidance of a tactical guided weapon test on April 17.
Lee added, however, that it is “a low-level foreign ministry pronouncement not carried by domestic media for the general North Korean public.”
This “enables the DPRK leadership to maintain distance from the pronouncement and exercise flexibility in its next moves with regard to the U.S.”
The recent pattern of such “calibrated posturing seems to indicate that Pyongyang is escalating pressure on the U.S. but still is leaving the door open to dialogue,” she added.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory