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US promises ‘strong response’ if Kim mounts nuclear test

SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Tuesday warned of a strong response if North Korea conducts its first nuclear test in nearly five years as she travels to Seoul to meet South Korean and Japanese allies and discuss escalation. dead end.

US and South Korean officials have said North Korea is all but ready to carry out another detonation at its nuclear testing ground in the northeastern city of Punggye-ri, which hosted for the last time a test in September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb designed for its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

While the Biden administration has pledged to push for additional international sanctions if North Korea proceeds with the nuclear test, prospects for further meaningful punitive measures are unclear, with the UN Security Council divided on Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Read more: COVID-19 could finally force North Korea to open up

“Any nuclear test would be in total violation of UN Security Council resolutions. There would be a swift and forceful response to such a test,” Sherman said, following a meeting with South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong.

“We continue to urge Pyongyang to cease its destabilizing and provocative activities and choose the path of diplomacy,” she said.

Sherman and Cho are planning a trilateral meeting with Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Mori Takeo on the North Korean nuclear issue on Wednesday. Sherman’s trip to Asia came after North Korea fired a salvo of eight ballistic missiles into the sea on Sunday, possibly setting a new record for single-day launches, extending a provocative streak of weapons this year which also included the country’s first ICBM demonstrations since 2017.

US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and South Korean First Deputy Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong speak to the media at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 7, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea.

Jung Yeon-Je—Pool/Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could make his precarious situation even worse by carrying out what would be the country’s seventh nuclear test since 2006. Experts say North Korea could use a test to claim the ability to build small bombs weapons that could be bundled on a multi-warhead ICBM or fit on Kim’s growing range of solid-fueled short-range missiles that pose a growing threat to South Korea and Japan.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Monday there were indications that one of the passages at the Punggye-ri testing ground had been reopened, possibly in preparation for a nuclear test.

Hours before Sherman’s meeting in Seoul, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that the United States remained concerned that North Korea might request its seventh test.” in the next few days”.

Read more: How to Stop Kim Jong Un

The Biden administration’s punitive action regarding North Korea’s weapons testing in recent months has been limited to largely symbolic unilateral sanctions. Russia and China had vetoed a US-sponsored resolution that would have imposed additional sanctions on North Korea for its previous ballistic tests on May 25.

“We have called on members of the international community, certainly members of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, to be responsible actors in the UN Security Council as the preeminent forum to address threats to international peace and security,” Price said.

“Unilateral actions will never be the most attractive or even the most effective response, and that’s especially the case because we’re happy to have close allies in the form of Japan and the Republic of Korea,” he said. he said, referring to South Korea. official name, the Republic of Korea.

US promises ‘strong response’ if Kim mounts nuclear test

An image of the Tunnel 3 entrance area at the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site in North Korea, as of April 14, 2022, overlaid on the Google Earth terrain model.

DigitalGlobe/Getty Images—Maxar 2019

North Korean state media has yet to comment on Sunday’s launches. They came after the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan concluded a three-day naval exercise with South Korea in the Philippine Sea on Saturday, reportedly their first joint exercise involving an aircraft carrier since November 2017, as the countries are preparing to improve their defense exercises against North Korean threats.

North Korea has long condemned allies’ combined military drills as invasion rehearsals and has often countered with its own missile drills, including short-range launches in 2016 and 2017 that simulated nuclear attacks on southern ports. Korean and US military installations in Japan.

Following the latest North Korean launches, the United States conducted several joint missile drills with Japan and South Korea, which it said were aimed at demonstrating its ability to respond.

Read more: What to know about North Korea’s ‘explosive’ COVID-19 outbreak

Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over trading the release of crippling US-led sanctions over the North’s disarmament moves.

Despite facing tough challenges at home, including a declining economy and a COVID-19 outbreak, Kim has shown no willingness to completely abandon an arsenal he sees as his best guarantee of survival.

His government has so far rejected offers from the Biden administration for open talks and clearly intends to convert the dormant denuclearization negotiations into a mutual arms reduction process, experts say.

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