Asia Pacific

North Korea's Kim vows to seek 'equilibrium of force' with U.S. after missile launch over Japan

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to seek a “final goal” of “equilibrium of force” with the U.S. while also forcing Washington to “dare not talk about” military action over its nuclear and missile programs, state-run media said Saturday, a day after the isolated nation lobbed an intermediate-range missile over Japan for the second time.

“Our final goal is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the U.S. and make the U.S. rulers dare not talk about military option,” Kim was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency during a visit to oversee Friday’s missile launch.

Kim’s tough talk came amid signals from Washington that patience with Pyongyang is wearing thin following the North’s launch of what it confirmed was a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile over Hokkaido and into the Pacific Ocean. That missile — the second of its kind to overfly Japan in just over two weeks — traveled some 3,700 km, stoking concern in Tokyo and putting the U.S. territory of Guam, home to key American military bases, easily within the North’s cross hairs.

It was the country’s longest-ever flight of a ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear warhead.

Pyongyang has ramped up its quest to master the technology needed to reliably target the United States with a nuclear-tipped long-range missile, conducting dozens of test-firings and training launches. In July, it twice tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking a large chunk of the U.S.

Speaking in Washington on Friday, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said the United States is fast running out of patience for diplomatic solutions to the North Korean crisis.

“We’ve been kicking the can down the road, and we’re out of road,” McMaster said, referring to Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests in defiance of pressure from the international community.

“For those … who have been commenting on a lack of a military option, there is a military option,” he added — noting, though, that it would not be the preferred choice of President Donald Trump.

Also Friday, the United Nations Security Council condemned the “highly provocative” launch over Japan, blasting the Kim regime’s “outrageous actions” and urging U.N. member states to “fully, comprehensively, and immediately implement” all sanctions resolutions targeting Pyongyang.

“The Security Council stressed that these DPRK actions are not just a threat to the region, but to all U.N. Member States,” it said in a statement.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, speaking at the same news conference as McMaster, said there was a possibility that Washington could push for more action at the United Nations, but acknowledged that the raft of sanctions slapped on the North had done little in the short term to rein it in.

“What we are seeing is they continue to be provocative, they continue to be reckless,” Haley said. “And at that point, there’s not a whole lot the Security Council is going to be able to do from here when you’ve cut 90 percent of the trade and 30 percent of the oil.”

Still, Haley said, “if we have to go further, this is going to look small compared to what we do.”

On Monday, the Security Council approved a tough, new U.S.-drafted sanctions resolution that included a ban on textile exports and a restriction on shipments of oil products, among other measures, in response to the North’s Sept. 3 test of what it said was a hydrogen bomb capable of being mounted on an ICBM.

In its statement Saturday, the North remained defiant in the face of the increasingly severe sanctions.

“As recognized by the whole world, we have made all these achievements despite the U.N. sanctions that have lasted for decades,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

“We should clearly show the big power chauvinists how our state attain the goal of completing its nuclear force despite their limitless sanctions and blockade,” he added.

The statement also referred to the missile-firing as a “launching drill … conducted with the aim at calming down the belligerence of the U.S. which has recently cried out for using military muscle against the DPRK.”

DPRK is the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

It went on to say that the launch had been intended to bolster operational capabilities “for attack and counterattack … examining the order to deal with nuclear warheads and confirming action procedures of actual war.”

In a sign that the nuclear-armed nation could be shifting from testing to actual operational training, the report also noted that Kim had ordered members of the strategic missile forces to be “rapidly deployed to the launching ground at early morning under a sudden order.”

Photos released with the statement depicted Kim observing the launch from a relatively close distance. They also showed the missile being fired from a transporter erector launcher, a vehicle designed to move a ballistic missile and stand it upright, allowing for a mobile system that makes surveillance difficult for spy satellites.

The drills, Kim said, “should become meaningful and practical ones for increasing combat power of the nuclear force like the current drill in the future” — an indication that these kinds of exercises would continue.

Last month, North Korea had threatened to fire a salvo of four Hwasong-12s toward Guam to bracket the island — some 3,400 km from Pyongyang — with “enveloping” fire.

Guam is home to Andersen Air Force Base, from which U.S. heavy bombers such as the B-1B have conducted overflights of the Korean Peninsula that have incensed Pyongyang. The North views the flights, often conducted jointly with the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force and South Korean Air Force, as rehearsals for striking its leadership and has routinely lambasted them as “nuclear bomb-dropping drills.”

Experts said Saturday’s launch proved the North could viably target Guam.

“The range of this test was significant, since North Korea demonstrated that it could reach Guam with this missile, although the payload the missile was carrying is not known,” David Wright, co-director of the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said in a statement.

However, Wright said the accuracy of the missile, which is still at an early stage of development, is low and that it would be difficult to use it to completely destroy the air base there.

The U.S. and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Japan is seen by Pyongyang as a potential logistics hub in the event of any contingency on the Korean Peninsula.

Pyongyang accuses Washington, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea and 47,000 service members in Japan, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.

In the most recent example, a North Korean state agency threatened on Thursday to use nuclear weapons to “sink” Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes and darkness” for backing the U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution.

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