SEOUL – A high-profile North Korean defector said Tuesday that top leader Kim Jong Un is determined to develop a nuclear weapons capability by next year and would not be dissuaded by economic incentives, South Korean media reported.
Kim is “racing ahead with nuclear development after setting up a plan to develop it at all costs by the end of 2017,” Thae Yong Ho told a group of South Korean journalists who cover their country’s Unification Ministry, according to Yonhap News Agency.
Thae, 55, who was the No. 2 at the North Korean Embassy in London when he defected with his wife and two sons in July, was appearing before the media for the first time since then.
Kim “would never abandon nuclear weapons even with $1 trillion or $10 trillion,” he said, adding, “It’s not a matter of incentives.”
Thae suggested that for North Korea, next year is “an opportune time” to push nuclear weapons development, considering that South Korea and the United States will have new presidents.
“Due to domestic political procedures, North Korea calculates that South Korea and the U.S. will not be able to take physical or military actions to deter North Korea’s nuclear development,” he said.
In the meantime, he said, North Korea will try to open dialogue with the new administrations in Seoul and Washington with a view to getting them to recognize it as a nuclear state.
Thae said Pyongyang intends to continue military provocations and nuclear tests to pressure the South Korean and U.S. governments to shift their sanctions-focused policy lines “into more stability-focused ones.”
Regarding the role of China, it has “no other option but following what North Korea says” considering the neighboring country’s value as a buffer zone between it and U.S. forces stationed on the Korean Peninsula.
“North Korea knows that weak point of China and is well aware that no matter how badly it acts, there is little China can do,” he said.
On what motivated him to defect to South Korea, Thae said Kim is “rotting from the inside,” and he had resolved to help “dismantle” it and “save our people from an approaching nuclear disaster.”
“My heart aches when I think of my family members and colleagues who remain in North Korea. But regretting and crying will bring me nowhere. Fighting the Kim regime will facilitate unification of the Koreas.”
Yonhap reported that Thae plans to join a national security think tank next year as a researcher, cooperate with other defectors and give public lectures on his experiences.
Thae is the most senior North Korean diplomat to defect to South Korea. In 1997, North Korea’s ambassador to Egypt defected to the United States and was resettled there.
More than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the three-year Korean War in 1953. Pyongyang has repeatedly denounced them as “human scum.”