(CNSNews.com) – A pledge by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to advance efforts this year to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile received a blunt Twitter slap down Monday from President-elect Donald Trump: “It won’t happen!”
“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S.,” Trump tweeted. “It won’t happen!”
In a subsequent post, the president-elect criticized China – North Korea’s closest ally and biggest trading partner – for not doing enough to rein in its unstable neighbor.
“China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea,” he said. “Nice!”
(In an op-ed Monday Sen. Cory Gardner, the Colorado Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, urged Trump to impose “secondary sanctions” on companies – many of them Chinese – “that help Pyongyang engage in illicit behavior.”)
In a televised new year speech, Kim said that preparations for test-firing an ICBM had “entered the final stage.”
The statement is noteworthy because although the regime has already tested ballistic missile-applicable technology, up to now it has always done so under the cover of placing satellites into orbit – as it did in December 2012 and again last February.
Launching a satellite into orbit recognizably tests – and usually advances – long-range missile knowhow.
U.S. experts said the satellite accomplishments amounted to a successful demonstration of Pyongyang’s ICBM capability; the Pentagon has long warned that the regime is seeking a capability of bringing the U.S. mainland within reach of a nuclear-tipped ICBM.
Pyongyang has also carried out five nuclear tests – three of them since Kim Jong-un succeeded his late father, and most recently last September.
In his speech Kim, dressed in a Western-style suit, said the regime had “achieved the status of a nuclear power, a military giant in the East which no enemy, however formidable, would dare to provoke.”
“We will continue to build up our self-defense capability, the pivot of which is the nuclear forces, and the capability for preemptive strike as long as the United States and its vassal forces [South Korea] keep on nuclear threat and blackmail and as long as they do not stop their war games they stage at our doorstep, disguising them as annual events.”
‘A militant banner for a victory in this year’s all-out offensive’
According to the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, North Korea continues to develop the Taepodong-2 long-range missile which it used to place a satellite in orbit for the first time in late 2012.
In recent years it also unveiled and displayed at military parades a new road-mobile ICBM, known as the KN-08 or Hwasong-13.
At a Pentagon briefing in 2013, Joint Chiefs of Staff vice-chairman Adm. James Winnefeld was asked about the potential range of the KN-08, which had been seen at a parade in Pyongyang, and said, “we believe the KN-08 probably does have the range to reach the United States.”
Security officials have said since then there has been no sign yet of a KN-08 test-launch.
“Pyongyang is also committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States; it has publicly displayed its KN-08 road-mobile ICBM on multiple occasions,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in the intelligence community’s 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment, delivered to Congress early last year.
“We assess that North Korea has already taken initial steps toward fielding this system, although the system has not been flight-tested,” he said.
As the Taepodong-2 has been tested successfully at least twice (under the pretext of satellite launches), Kim’s new year speech remarks likely refer to the KN-08.
Looking for clues about Kim’s mindset and aims for the year ahead, Pyongyang-watchers noted several points in this, his fifth such speech:
--Kim apologized to the North Korean people for being unable to achieve what he had planned over the past year, saying he had “regrets and a guilty conscience” over targets not met.
--The speech continued a trend of far fewer references to Kim’s dynastic predecessors, Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung, than has been the norm.
--In contrast to previous years’ speeches there was only one reference to the regime’s “military-first” policy, but half a dozen to “self-reliance.”
The regime mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun in an editorial on the speech Monday highlighted the slogan, “Let us accelerate the victorious advance of socialism with the great spirit of self-reliance and self-development as the dynamic force!”
“The tasks set forth by Kim Jong-un in his new year address serve as a militant banner for a victory in this year’s all-out offensive,” it said. “All party members, service personnel and people should turn out as one in the new year's drive for thoroughly carrying out the militant tasks set forth by Kim Jong-un …”