President Donald Trump says sanctions against North Korea will continue for now. In an Oval Office meeting with the South Korean President, he said the sanctions aimed at Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons program are at a “fair” level. (April 11)
WASHINGTON – After North Korea fired a barrage of missiles early Saturday, its first tests in more than a year, President Donald Trump said he remains confident in negotiations with Kim Jong Un and that a nuclear deal is still possible.
Trump contended that Kim would not do anything to hurt relations between the United States and the North, saying the North Korean leader did not want to “break his promise” when it came to the testing of missiles and nuclear weapons.
“Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it,” Trump posted to Twitter Saturday morning. “He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”
Trump’s remarks came hours after South Korea said the North had fired several missiles into the sea off its eastern coast. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff is analyzing the launch and aiming to identify the type of missiles, which they said flew about 125 miles in the direction of the ocean before landing in the water.
If it’s confirmed that the North fired banned ballistic missiles, it would be the first such launch since the North’s November 2017 test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. That year saw a string of increasingly powerful weapons tests from the North and a belligerent response from Trump that had many in the region fearing war.
The launch comes less than three months since Trump met with Kim in Hanoi to negotiate denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The summit, which was the second held between the leaders, ended without any agreement on denuclearization or sanctions relief.
President Trump returned from his failed summit with North Korea to face renewed turmoil at home, from explosive testimony by his former attorney to reports he ordered officials to grant son-in-law Jared Kusher a top-secret security clearance. (March 1)
The launch would not violate Kim’s self-imposed testing moratorium, which prevented the country from testing intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. But the news is sure to raise tensions between North Korea and the United States and was seen as an act of aggression to display the country’s unhappiness in the aftermath of the February summit. Experts say the North may increase these sorts of low-level provocations to apply pressure on the United States to agree to reduce crushing international sanctions.
Harry Kazianis, who works for the conservative think tank National Interest, said the launch made it clear that “North Korea is angry” after February’s summit with Trump, and the administration’s “lack of flexibility” when it comes to sanctions.
“Chairman Kim has decided to remind the world — and specifically the United States — that his weapons’ capabilities are growing by the day,” Kazianis said. “My fear is that we are at the beginning stages of a slide back to the days of nuclear war threats and personal insults, a dangerous cycle of spiking tensions that must be avoided at all costs.”
South Korea said in a statement it’s “very concerned” about North Korea’s weapons launches, calling them a violation of last year’s inter-Korean agreements to reduce animosities between the countries. The statement, issued after an emergency meeting of top officials at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, also urged North Korea to stop committing acts that would raise military tensions and join efforts to resume nuclear diplomacy.
North Korea wants widespread sanctions relief in return for disarmament moves that the United States has rejected as insufficient. In a sign of Pyongyang’s growing frustration, it has recently demanded that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from nuclear negotiations and criticized national security adviser John Bolton.
Last month, Kim oversaw the testing of a new “tactical guided weapon.” It was the nation’s first publicly announced weapons test since last year.
The country’s state-run news outlet KCNA did not specify what kind of weapon the North Koreans tested last month but said the event was “of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power” of the country’s military.
In March, after North Korean officials threatened to resume testing missiles, Pompeo said that Kim had promised Trump that such tests would not happen.
“In Hanoi, on multiple occasions, he spoke directly to the president and made a commitment that he would not resume nuclear testing nor would he resume missile testing,” Pompeo said. “So that’s Chairman Kim’s word. We have every expectation he will live up to that commitment.”
Just last week, Pompeo reiterated that negotiating with the North could be fruitful and stressed it would take time.
“There are lots of elements of this. There are many pieces. It’s an enormous challenge for that country to make its shift, too,” Pompeo said in an interview for CBS’ “Intelligence Matters” podcast, noting the country’s history of telling its citizens that nukes “kept them secure.”
“So there’s not just a military strategic decision, but a political strategic decision that we think Chairman Kim is prepared to make,” Pompeo said. “Only time will tell for sure, but I’ve seen enough to believe that there is a real opportunity to fundamentally shift the strategic paradigm on the peninsula there.”
After Saturday’s launch, North Korea could choose to fire more missiles with longer ranges in coming weeks to ramp up its pressure on the United States to come up with a roadmap for nuclear talks by the end of this year, said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University.
“North Korea wants to say, ‘We have missiles and nuclear weapons to cope with (U.S.-led) sanctions,’” said Nam. “They can fire short-range missiles a couple more times this month, and there is no guarantee that they won’t fire a medium-range missile next month.”
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen and Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY; Associated Press
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