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Denuclearization 'off the table' as North Korea rhetoric returns
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North Korea carries out 'very important' test at once-dismantled launch site
North Korea has carried out a "very important" test at its Sohae satellite launch site, state media KCNA reported on Sunday, a rocket testing ground that US officials once said Pyongyang had promised to close. The reported test comes as a year-end deadline North Korea has imposed nears, warning it could take a "new path" amid stalled denuclearisation talks with the United States. The KCNA report called it a "successful test of great significance" on Saturday but did not specify what was tested. South Korea's defence ministry said South Korea and the United States are cooperating closely in monitoring activities at major North Korean sites including Tongchang-ri, the area where Sohae is located. Missile experts said it appeared likely the North Koreans had conducted a static test of a rocket engine, rather than a missile launch, which are usually quickly detected by neighbouring South Korea and Japan. "If it is indeed a static engine test for a new solid or liquid fuel missile, it is yet another loud signal that the door for diplomacy is quickly slamming, if it isn’t already," said Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. "This could be a very credible signal of what might await the world after the New Year." Tensions have risen ahead of a year-end deadline set by North Korea, which has called on the United States to change its policy of insisting on Pyongyang's unilateral denuclearisation and demanded relief from punishing sanctions. On Saturday North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations said denuclearisation was now off the negotiating table with the United States and lengthy talks with Washington are not needed. North Korean ambassador to the United Nations Kim Song speaks during a news conference in New York Credit: Brendan McDermid/Reuters "The results of the recent important test will have an important effect on changing the strategic position of the DPRK once again in the near future," KCNA reported, using the initials of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The test is the latest in a string of statements and actions from North Korea designed to underscore the seriousness of its deadline. North Korea has announced it would convene a rare gathering of top ruling-party officials later this month, and on Wednesday state media showed photos of leader Kim Jong-un taking a second symbolic horse ride on the country's sacred Mt. Paektu. Such meetings and propaganda blitzes often come ahead of major announcements from North Korean authorities. While North Korea has not specified what its "new path" could be, observers have suggested the launch of a space satellite is a possibility, allowing Pyongyang to demonstrate and test its rocket capabilities without resorting to overt military provocation such as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch. "Such testing is meant to improve military capabilities and to shore up domestic pride and legitimacy," Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said of Saturday's test. "North Korea is avoiding violations of its long-range missile test moratorium for now, but it is still improving the propulsion and precision of its missiles so that it can claim a credible nuclear deterrent," he said. Kim Jong-un in pictures: Bizarre photoshoots of North Korea's leader Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean Navy officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said North Korea may have tested a solid fuel rocket engine, which could allow North Korea to field ICBMs that are easier to hide and faster to deploy. "North Korea has already entered the ‘new path’ that they talked about," he said. U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters in June 2018 after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that North Korea had pledged to dismantle one of its missile installations, which U.S. officials later identified as Sohae. Shortly after that summit, analysts said satellite imagery showed some key facilities at Sohae being dismantled. However, in the wake of the second summit between Mr Trump and Kim earlier this year, which ended with no agreement, new imagery indicated the North Koreans were rebuilding the site. At the time Mr Trump said he would be "be very disappointed" if the reports of rebuilding were true. "Remember this is at the site that was supposedly dismantled as a 'denuclearisation step,'" Mr Narang said. "So this is a first step at 'renuclearising.' Reversible steps are being ... reversed." In recent weeks, media reports indicated a high number of U.S. military surveillance flights over the Korean peninsula, suggesting growing expectation of North Korean tests. Commercial satellite imagery captured on Thursday by Planet Labs showed new activity at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station and the presence of a large shipping container, CNN reported, with analysts suggesting it indicated a test was imminent.
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Trump warns Kim has 'everything' to lose through hostility
President Donald Trump warned on Sunday that North Korea's Kim Jong-un had "everything" to lose through hostility towards the United States, after Pyongyang said it had carried out a major new weapons test. "Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way," Mr Trump tweeted in response to the unspecified test at the Sohae space launch center. The announcement of Saturday's test came just hours after Mr Trump said he would be "surprised" by any hostile action from the North, emphasising his "very good relationship" with Kim. Mr Trump and Kim engaged in months of mutual insults and threats of devastation in 2017, sending tensions soaring before a diplomatic rapprochement the following year. The pair have met three times since June 2018 but with little progress towards denuclearisation. Pyongyang has set Washington a December 31 deadline to make new concessions to kickstart stalled talks. "North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearise as promised," Mr Trump tweeted. "Nato, China, Russia, Japan, and the entire world is unified on this issue!" Writing that Kim had "signed a strong Denuclearisation Agreement" at their June 2018 summit in Singapore," Mr Trump warned: "He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November." A spokesman for North Korea's Academy of the National Defense Science said Saturday's "very important test" would have an "important effect" on changing the "strategic position" of North Korea, in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. The statement did not provide further details on the test. Kim Jong-un in pictures: Bizarre photoshoots of North Korea's leader A senior US administration official earlier said Washington had seen reports of a test and was "coordinating closely with allies and partners." Mr Trump indicated that military action was still possible when he was asked about Pyongyang on the sidelines of a Nato summit in Britain this week. North Korea fired back that if the United States used military force it would take "prompt corresponding actions at any level." UN diplomats fear that North Korea will resume long-range nuclear or ballistic tests if no progress is made soon in talks with the United States. Sohae, on North Korea's northwest coast, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit. But Pyongyang has carried out several rocket launches there that were condemned by the US and others as disguised long-range ballistic missile tests. Following the Singapore summit, Mr Trump said Kim had agreed to destroy "a major missile engine testing site" without naming the facility. Kim then agreed to shutter the Sohae site during a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang as part of trust-building measures.
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Denuclearization 'off the table' as North Korea rhetoric returns
North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations said on Saturday that denuclearization is off the negotiating table with the United States and lengthy talks with Washington are not needed, the starkest statement yet emphasizing the gulf between the two sides ahead of a year-end deadline set by Pyongyang. U.S. President Donald Trump sought to play down a recent surge in tensions with North Korea, stressing what he said was his good relationship with its leader Kim Jong Un and saying he thought Kim wanted a deal, not to interfere in next year's U.S. presidential election. "We'll see about North Korea. I'd be surprised if North Korea acted hostilely," Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving for Florida. "He knows I have an election coming up. I don't think he wants to interfere with that, but we'll have to see ... I think he'd like to see something happen. The relationship is very good, but you know, there is certain hostility, there's no question about it." Trump has invested considerable time trying to persuade North Korea to give up a nuclear weapons program that has grown to threaten the United States, but progress has been scant in spite of his three meetings with Kim Jong Un. North Korean ambassador to the United Nations Kim Song speaks during a news conference in New York Credit: Brendan McDermid/Reuters Tensions have risen ahead of a year-end deadline set by North Korea, which has called on the United States to change its policy of insisting on Pyongyang's unilateral denuclearization and demanded relief from punishing sanctions. Kim Jong Un has warned of an unspecified "new path" next year, raising fears this could mean an end to a suspension in nuclear bomb and long-range missile testing in place since 2017 that Trump has held up as a key win from his engagement efforts. U.N. Ambassador Kim Song said in a statement the "sustained and substantial dialogue" sought by the United States was a "time-saving trick" to suit its domestic political agenda, a reference to Trump's 2020 reelection bid. "We do not need to have lengthy talks with the U.S. now and denuclearization is already gone out of the negotiating table," he said. Kim Song's comments appeared to go further than North Korea's earlier warning that discussions related to its nuclear weapons program might have to be taken off the table given Washington's refusal to offer concessions. On Tuesday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry repeated a call for Washington to change its "hostile policies" and said it was up to Washington to decide what "Christmas gift" came at the end of the year. Kim Song also hit out at a statement this week from EU members of the U.N. Security Council criticizing recent short range launches by North Korea, calling it a "serious provocation" and saying they were playing the role of "pet dog" of the United States. Recent days have seen a return to the highly charged rhetoric that raised fears of war two years ago. In 2017, Trump and Kim Jung Un famously engaged in a war of words, with Trump calling Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man" and North Korea calling Trump, now 73, a "dotard." On Tuesday, Trump once again called Kim "Rocket Man" and said the United States reserved the right to use military force against North Korea. Pyongyang said any repeat of such language would represent "the relapse of the dotage of a dotard." Kim Jong-un in pictures: Bizarre photoshoots of North Korea's leader In spite of Trump's reprise of the Rocket Man meme, he has still expressed hope that Kim Jong Un would denuclearize. On Friday the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said the United States had not yet decided whether to have a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss North Korean human rights abuses that has angered Pyongyang. On Friday, South Korea said Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a half-hour phone discussion on ways to maintain diplomacy with North Korea. It said the two leaders agreed the situation has become "severe" and "dialogue momentum should be maintained to achieve prompt results from denuclearization negotiations." Many diplomats, analysts and U.S. officials have long doubted North Korea's willingness to negotiate away a nuclear program it has invested decades and a large proportion of limited national resources in creating.
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