N Korea hints it may resume nuclear tests

Hyonhee ShinReuters
North Korea could possibly test a long-range missile or other powerful weapon next month.
Camera IconNorth Korea could possibly test a long-range missile or other powerful weapon next month. Credit: AP

North Korea would bolster its defences against the United States and consider restarting "all temporally-suspended activities," an apparent reference to a self-imposed moratorium on testing its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Tension has been rising over a recent series of North Korean missile tests. A US push for fresh sanctions was followed by heated reaction from Pyongyang, raising the spectre of a return to the period of so-called "fire and fury" threats of 2017.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un convened a meeting of the powerful politburo of the ruling Workers' Party on Wednesday to discuss "important policy issues," including countermeasures over "hostile" US policy, the official KCNA news agency said.

The politburo ordered a reconsideration of trust-building measures and "promptly examining the issue of restarting all temporally-suspended activities," while calling for "immediately bolstering more powerful physical means," KCNA said.

The politburo decision appears to be a step beyond Kim's previous remarks at the end of 2019 that he would no longer be bound by the moratorium on testing nuclear warheads and long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), after the United States did not respond to calls for concessions to reopen negotiations.

Washington's policy and military threats had "reached a danger line," the report said, citing joint US-South Korea military exercises, the deployment of cutting-edge US strategic weapons in the region, and the implementation of independent and United Nations sanctions.

"We should make more thorough preparation for a long-term confrontation with the US imperialists," the politburo concluded.

The US State Department and White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Biden made no mention of North Korea during a nearly two-hour news conference on Wednesday held to mark his first year in office.

North Korea could possibly test a long-range missile or other powerful weapon in time for the 80th and 110th anniversaries of the birthdays of Kim's late father and grandfather in February and April, both major holidays in the country, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

"It's possible that the situation could go back to the vicious cycle of provocations and sanctions we saw in 2017," he said.

After test firing a ballistic missile capable of striking the US mainland in 2017, North Korea launched a flurry of diplomacy and has not tested its ICBMs or nuclear weapons since.

But it began testing a range of new short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) after denuclearisation talks stalled and slipped back into a standoff following a failed summit in 2019.

Pyongyang has defended the missile launches as its sovereign right to self-defence and accused Washington of applying double standards over weapons tests.

On Monday, North Korea conducted its fourth missile test this year, following two launches of "hypersonic missiles" capable of high speed and manoeuvring after lift-off, and another one involving a railway-borne missile system

The unusually rapid pace of launches prompted US condemnation and a push for new UN sanctions, and Pyongyang threatened stronger actions.

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