US, North Korea trade barbs over nuclear weapon tests

Agence France-Presse
US, North Korea trade barbs over nuclear weapon tests
Ri Yong-Ho, Pyongyang's newly appointed foreign minister, accuses the US of being behind the failure of the long-dormant 6-party talks on the country's nuclear program

VIENTIANE, Laos – North Korea said any decision to conduct another nuclear test depends entirely on the behavior of the United States as the two sides traded blame on Tuesday, July 26, over tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Ri Yong-Ho, Pyongyang’s newly appointed foreign minister, accused the US of being behind the failure of the long-dormant 6-party talks on the country’s nuclear program.

His comments came after top Washington envoy John Kerry warned the North of “real consequences” if it continues nuclear and missile tests in defiance of UN sanctions, as the international community attempts to rein in the rogue nation.

“Whether we conduct additional nuclear tests is entirely up to the United States,” Ri told reporters late Tuesday on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Laos which both he and Kerry attended.

“The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula went out of the window because of the United States,” Ri said.

The hermit state carried out its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by a series of ballistic missile launches that sent tensions soaring across East Asia and beyond.

In response the UN Security Council slapped North Korea with its toughest sanctions to date in a unanimous decision even endorsed by China, its economic lifeline and diplomatic shield.

“The key factor damaging the situation is the United States’ hostile policies… and the problem is getting worse,” Ri said, citing the ramped up economic sanctions.

Despite the latest attempt by the international community to push it towards bankruptcy, North Korea has continued to carry out ballistic missile tests, and made it clear that it intends to continue nuclear testing.

With the tensions dominating talks in the Laos capital Vientiane, Kerry issued a stern warning to the North.

“Together we are determined… to make absolutely certain that DPRK (North Korea) understands that there are real consequences for these actions,” Kerry said.

Analysts say this year’s tests have shown the North making progress towards its goal of developing a credible strike threat against the US mainland, adding urgency to Washington’s warnings.

Ri, a former nuclear negotiator, was making his overseas debut as North Korea’s top diplomat at the gathering hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The meeting was a rare opportunity for the 6 parties involved in talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program – the US, Russia, China, Japan and the two Koreas – to be in the same room.

 ‘Serious threat’

Kerry held a flurry of closed-door meetings with his regional counterparts over the last two days.

“(The) issue that came up in nearly every meeting I had so far this week is the provocative and deeply concerning behaviour of the DPRK,” he told reporters.

“North Korea’s actions present a very serious threat, not just to this region but to international peace and security.”

Earlier in the day, Kerry had referred to Iran and encouraged North Korea to follow its example.

“(Iran) was not going to pursue a nuclear weapon and, in exchange, would like to have sanctions lifted that had been put in place because of the evidence of that program,” Washington’s top diplomat said.

Washington and Seoul agreed earlier this month to deploy a sophisticated anti-missile system in South Korea, a move which also spooked China and Russia, who worry about having the advanced US-made system on their doorstep.

The North, meanwhile, said it would take “physical action” – a threat followed up with another missile test which it described as a simulated strike on the South.

North Korea’s Ri met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Monday on the sidelines of the Laos meeting but few details have been released.

Beijing is Pyongyang’s main ally but its patience has worn thin.

China is, however, wary of pushing the North too far, fearing a regime collapse that could create a refugee crisis on its border and swing the regional balance of power towards the US.

The North Korean minister also hit out at the US decision to personally blacklist Kim Jong-Un over human rights abuses.

“Recently they committed the most grave hostility by insulting our Dear Leader,” he said. –

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