North Korea Proclaims Right to Nuclear Weapons

North Korea's new regime on Saturday asserted it has the right to nuclear weapons, just days after concluding bilateral talks with the United States that were aimed at exploring options for reviving talks on closing down the North's atomic operations, the New York Times reported (see GSN, Feb. 24).

"Nuclear weapons are not the monopoly of the United States," North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission said in a statement.

"The U.S. is sadly mistaken if it thinks it is safe as its mainland is far away across the ocean," the Stalinist state said.

While the aspiring nuclear power is known to have detonated two atomic devices and is thought to have at minimum enough fissile material to fuel six warheads, the isolated country is not yet believed to have developed a bomb small enough to be mounted on a missile or to have produced a missile able to strike the continental United States.

There had not been much expectation that the new regime under Kim Jong Un would differ significantly on its nuclear weapons policy than its predecessor -- the government of deceased dictator Kim Jong Il, which prioritized nuclear development as a means of deterring an invasion by South Korea and the United States. 

Special envoy on North Korea Glyn Davies last week in Beijing led two days of U.S. talks with diplomats from Pyongyang that were aimed at reaching agreement on conditions for reviving a paralyzed North Korean denuclearization process that also includes China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. Those talks have not been held since December 2008. Davies acknowledged that the meeting had made limited progress in resolving the impasse.

Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul demand that Pyongyang halt uranium enrichment as a precondition to a restart of the six-nation nuclear talks. The United States is also insisting the North bolster its engagement with South Korea, which it is accused of attacking twice in 2010.

"That's fundamental, essential, and there's no way to make ultimate progress unless they make that decision," Davies said to reporters in Seoul.

Pyongyang has not issued a formal statement on last week's talks with the Obama administration -- the third such time the two nations have met in less than a year and their first session since Kim Jong Un took power after the December death of his father.

The North had previously claimed the Obama administration had proposed sending 240,000 tons of food to North Korea in exchange for a halt on its enrichment of uranium. Pyongyang said that amount was too little and that any deal should involve primarily rice  and not the type of nutritional assistance aimed at children that U.S. officials offered. Washington is wary of providing the sought-after rice as it could more easily be redirected to the country's military (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times I, Feb. 25).

Davies on Saturday said last week's bilateral talks represented a "good beginning" with the North even as any resumption of the six-party talks remains a "long way" off, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

 "I think it is significant that in a relatively short period of time after change in leadership in the North, the D.P.R.K. decided to re-engage," said the United States' former representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We hope and we expect that the D.P.R.K. will choose to go down the path of greater engagement and indeed ultimately cooperation," Davies said during a stop in Seoul.

South Korea's representative to the six-party talks said his government would like to hold its own direct discussions with the Kim Jong Un regime.

 "The U.S.-North Korea talks were useful and I hope that a third round of talks with North Korea could be held in the process of resuming the six-party talks," South Korean nuclear negotiator Lim Sung-nam said.

Representatives from Seoul met twice with counterparts from their neighbor in 2011, but the North more recently has sworn off further engagement with the South's Lee Myung-bak administration (Yonhap News Agency, Feb. 25).

Davies pledged he would "try to keep the ball in play back and forth" between the United States and North Korea on holding further nuclear discussions, Kyodo News reported.

"We shall see. ... We shall stay in touch with the North," he said in Tokyo on Monday, adding that the State Department has a ready line of communication with Pyongyang available through the North's U.N. mission in New York City (Kyodo News I, Feb. 27).

Meanwhile, North Korea's propaganda arm has said Kim Jong Un has directed the country's armed forces to stage a "powerful retaliatory strike" should the South deliver a provocation, the Times reported.

South Korea and the United States were due on Monday to begin yearly bilateral military drills that are focused on discouraging new North Korean hostilities. Pyongyang routinely condemns such maneuvers.

"[Kim Jong Un] ordered them to make a powerful retaliatory strike at the enemy, should the enemy intrude even 0.001 millimeters into the waters of the country where its sovereignty is exercised,” the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency said of a recent trip by Kim to artillery units along the nation's southern coast.

Seoul and Pyongyang have had several deadly altercations over the contested maritime border separating their territorial waters (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times II, Feb. 26).

The National Defense Commission on Saturday also warned of a "sacred war" in response to the U.S.-South Korean Foal Eagle military drills, which consist of maritime, air and land maneuvers, as well as the Key Resolve tabletop visioning exercise, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are unpardonable war hysteria kicked up by the hooligans to desecrate our mourning period and an unpardonable infringement upon our sovereignty and dignity," the commission said in a statement that vowed to "foil the moves of the [South Korean] group of traitors" (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, Feb. 25).

Elsewhere, North Korean officials on Saturday discussed the recent talks with the United State with high-ranking Chinese officials including Beijing's lead nuclear negotiator Wu Dawei, Kyodo reported (Kyodo News II, Feb. 25).

February 27, 2012

North Korea's new regime on Saturday asserted it has the right to nuclear weapons, just days after concluding bilateral talks with the United States that were aimed at exploring options for reviving talks on closing down the North's atomic operations, the New York Times reported.