SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A senior South Korean official said on Monday that North Korea is increasingly targeting the South with its nuclear weapons program, urging China and Russia to convince the North not to perform a nuclear test.
The comments from Unification Minister Kwon Youngse came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reiterated his nuclear ambitions at a key military meeting last week and approved unspecified new operational tasks for army units on the front lines.
Experts say North Korea plans to deploy nuclear weapons on the battlefield along its tense border with South Korea. During a protracted standoff in nuclear diplomacy, North Korea has spent much of the past three years expanding its arsenal of short-range solid-fuel missiles that may be able to evade missile defenses and attack targets in all of South Korea, including the US bases there.
US and South Korean officials say North Korea has nearly completed preparations for its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear warhead designed for intercontinental ballistic missiles. Analysts say North Korea could use its next nuclear test to claim its ability to build small warheads that can be placed on short-range missiles or other new weapons systems it has been demonstrating in recent months.
Kwon, who oversees South Korea’s relations with North Korea, said at a news conference that the North is taking advantage of a favorable environment to continue arms development and overturn the regional status quo, while the U.S. -led West remains distracted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He said North Korea’s nuclear ambitions pose a “very serious and fundamental threat” to South Korea and that Seoul is preparing tough countermeasures in response to a possible North Korean nuclear test. He didn’t work out.
“North Korea’s transition in weapons development from long-range ballistic missiles to short-range ballistic missiles, from strategic nuclear weapons to tactical nuclear weapons, is clearly aimed at South Korea,” Kwon said.
“It seems clear that North Korea is simultaneously pursuing the opportunity to attack the United States and attack South Korea,” he said.
Kwon said North Korea could continue a nuclear test at any time.
While the US administration has vowed to pursue additional sanctions against North Korea if it conducts another nuclear test, the possibility of meaningful new sanctions remains unclear as Russia’s war in Ukraine has deepened divisions among permanent members of the UN Security Council . China and Russia have vetoed US-sponsored proposals that would have tightened sanctions against North Korea over some of its recent ballistic missile tests.
Kwon, who served as South Korea’s ambassador to China from 2013 to 2015, expressed hope that Beijing and Moscow will respond differently to a North Korean nuclear test, as both maintain public support for a denuclearized Korean peninsula.
“If North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test at a time when the global security situation is as unstable as it is today, the country will face huge criticism from international society, and the response will be more than words,” Kwon said.
North Korea conducted more ballistics tests in the first half of 2022 than in any previous year, firing about 30 missiles, including the first tests of ICBMs in nearly five years. Kim has interrupted the tests with repeated comments that North Korea would proactively use nuclear weapons if threatened or provoked, which experts say is an escalation in its nuclear doctrine.
The US administration has reaffirmed its commitment to defending allies South Korea and Japan with all its military capabilities, including nuclear ones, but in Seoul there are concerns that North Korea’s ICBMs will make Washington hesitate in the event of another war on the Korean peninsula.
Experts say North Korea’s unusually strenuous testing activity this year underscores Kim’s intention to increase his arsenal and pressure the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power, eroding his position in negotiating economic and security concessions. is reinforced.
Talks have stalled since early 2019 amid disagreements over an easing of crippling US-led sanctions against North Korea in exchange for North Korean disarmament steps.
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