Defying Trump’s tough talk, Pyongyang may test another missile tomorrow

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The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Friday said the United States will have to pay a dear price for comments made by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley earlier in the week.

Following North Korea’s hydrogen bomb test last weekend, Haley said that North Korea was “begging for war” and called for tougher sanctions on Pyongyang. In a piece picked up by Bloomberg news agency, KCNA accused Haley of having a “hysteric fit,” and delivering a “tongue-lashing.”

It’s been widely speculated that the increasingly isolated state will launch yet another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test on Saturday, the anniversary of its founding.

If nothing else, the back-to-back tests show that North Korea, thus far, has been deterred neither by President Donald Trump’s fresh sanctions against it, nor his threats of “fire and fury.”

While Trump and Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., maintain their heated rhetoric, there are efforts behind closed doors — literally — to take a more diplomatic approach.

On Wednesday night, shortly after the United States asked the U.N. Security Council to slap fresh sanctions on North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford met in a closed session with Congress to discuss the twin crises of Afghanistan (aka, America’s Longest War) and an increasingly defiant North Korea.

According to Reuters, lawmakers said that “the briefings’ tone was sharply different from some of Trump’s recent public statements.”

During the classified briefing for the entire House of Representatives and Senate, Tillerson, Mattis, Dunford, and Coats “stressed efforts to find a diplomatic solution” to the tensions with North Korea, including sanctions. Yet the means for arriving at that solution seem murky.

The partners the United States is relying on to enforce the sanctions diverge greatly on the proper course of action — South Korea is in favor of sanctions, while neither China nor Russia are keen on them. There is a chance both will vote against the latest rounds — which would include an oil embargo, precluding China from selling gasoline and diesel to North Korea — in the U.N. Security Council.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday said that his country would back more U.N. sanctions against North Korea, but did not elaborate on whether that meant China would vote in favor of these proposed sanctions.

James Person, director of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy at the Wilson Center, said that “the timelines are totally out of sync here.”

“North Korea is developing this technology at such a pace — they’re crossing all of these technological hurdles…any sanctions on North Korea are going to take a very long time to really have an impact,” said Person.

“We’re talking about a regime that has been living under sanctions-like conditions since the mid-1950s,” he said, adding that at times North Korea’s relationships with Russia and China had deteriorated, affecting trade, meaning that their access to goods and technology were cut off.

“The North Koreans have learned to do without,” said Person.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the week pointed out the absurdity of being placed on the sanctions list along side Iran and North Korea, only to be asked to help enforce sanctions against North Korea:

Of course, this is at least ridiculous to put us on the one list with North Korea and then ask to help with sanctions exercises against North Korea….This is not because we were placed on this list with North Korea, although this is silly, this is just ridiculous…Sanctions have already approached the line and are completely inefficient.


Person said that sanctions would be “uniquely ineffective” in the short term because North Koreans excel at using human and indigenous resources to solve problems — through labor, allocation of domestic resources, and reverse engineering.

The human cost of these sanctions could be immense.

“It is considered an acceptable loss for a segment of the population to perish — and this is the most tragic thing here — as long as the vital interests of the regime remain intact,” said Person.

He notes that those who observe North Korea see the latest tests as a potential signal that Pyongyang is ready to return to negotiations (assuming Trump changes his mind on talking to North Korea.

“They announced, after this last test, that ‘We’ve reached our goal of completion of national nuclear power,’…now the question is, is this bombast, or is this hedging? Does this mean they’re ready to talk?” said Person.

He added that from the perspective of North Koreans, getting rid of their nuclear program, which they maintain they need to for the security of their nation, would be “a non-starter.”

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