(CNSNews.com) – Responding to reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his country’s nuclear arsenal to be ready “at a moment’s notice,” Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz on Thursday night laid the blame at the feet of the Clinton administra-tion for a deal it made with Pyongyang 22 years ago.
“This is all the result of the failures of the Clinton administration two decades ago, that negotiated a deal with North Korea lifting the sanctions, allowing billions of dollars to flow in. and they used that money to develop nuclear weapons in the first place,” he said during the Fox News debate in Detroit.
Early Friday local time, Pyongyang’s state news agency KCNA quoted Kim as saying his nuclear arsenal has been ordered to be on standby, able to be deployed “at a moment’s notice.”
Kim said the current situation on the peninsula has become “very precarious,” making it necessary for the regime to shift its strategy, and be ready to carry out pre-emptive attacks.
In response to a question about how he as president would respond to the threat, Cruz pointed to the 1994 Agreed Framework deal, and then said a North Korea with nuclear weapons places the United States “in a much harder position.”
“When you have a lunatic with nuclear weapons, to some extent it constrains your options.”
Cruz expressed support for the moving in recent days of the USS John C. Stennis carrier group into the South China Sea, and proposals to deploy an advanced missile defense umbrella in South Korea – the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system – to protect America’s treaty ally from its northern neighbor.
(U.S. and South Korean military officials on Friday opened formal talks on the possible deployment of the THAAD system, a proposal that gained new urgency after North Korea last month fired an observation satellite into orbit, using ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.)
Cruz also voiced support for space-based missile defense shield, and said he would put more pressure on Beijing to rein in its neighbor – “because North Korea is effectively a client state of China.”
The Agreed Framework, signed in Geneva in October 1994, is widely viewed as a failure. Under it the Kim regime pledged to mothball a plutonium-based nuclear reactor and to admit U.N. inspectors to monitor the freeze, in return for the provision of alternative energy supplies, including U.S. heavy fuel shipments.
But eight years later the Bush administration learned that North Korea had for years been cheating on the deal by carrying out covert uranium-enrichment activity. After it confronted the North Koreans in 2002 with evidence of the violations the Agreed Framework quickly started to unravel.
The U.S. suspended the fuel shipments, North Korea expelled the inspectors and resumed activities at the its reactor and reprocessing plant, and withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In 2006 it tested a nuclear bomb for the first time, followed by three more tests in 2009, 2013, and last January.
According to KCNA, Kim made the new threatening comments while overseeing the test-firing of a new multiple-launch rocket system. Earlier South Korea reported that the North fired six short-range missiles – flying distances of up to 90 miles – off its east coast, towards the Sea of Japan.
The threat and rocket firing came shortly after the U.N. Security Council imposed tough new sanctions in response to North Korea’s January nuclear test and long-range rocket launch last month.
In another imminent development likely to draw a hostile response from the North, the U.S. and South Korea on Monday will begin annual joint military drills, Ssang Yong, described by U.S. Forces Korea as the largest multilateral amphibious exercise to date.
Three Japan-based U.S. Navy vessels and more than 4,000 sailors and Marines arrived in South Korea on Thursday to take part in the maneuvers.
On Friday, China’s state-run China Daily in an editorial urged North Korea to avoid a “self-destructive course” of tit-for-tat actions in response to the sanctions resolution.
“Judging from its past pattern of reactions, the vengeful Pyongyang may get even more aggressive in its nuclear-missile pursuits and threats to use force,” it said. “What happened on Thursday morning [the rocket test-firing], therefore, may well be the start of an unpredictable spiral.”
The editorial said North Korea in response to the resolution has “a very easy way out: Let go of its nuclear-missile program. Sit down and talk.”
As Cruz suggested, China is North Korea’s closest ally and accounts for the vast majority of its foreign trade. Its cooperation will be critical if the new sanctions are to be effectively enforced.
The sanctions, the toughest U.N. measures imposed against the reclusive state in two decades, call for the expulsion of North Korean diplomats who carry out “illicit activities” including sanctions evasion, and require countries to inspect cargo going into or out of North Korea.
They also target the banking and financial sectors, and ban the export to North Korea of coal, iron and other material in support of the nuclear or missile programs.