North Korea's Kim promises no more nuclear or missile tests

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2018
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North Korea's Kim promises no more nuclear or missile tests

  • Suspension will be effective immediately
  • Kim Jong Un said his country no longer needs to conduct nuclear tests

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would halt nuclear tests and intercontinental missile launches, in a Saturday announcement welcomed by US President Donald Trump ahead of a much-anticipated summit between the two men.
Pyongyang’s declaration, long sought by Washington, will be seen as a crucial step in the fast diplomatic dance on and around the Korean peninsula.
It comes less than a week before the North Korean leader meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a summit in the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula, ahead of the eagerly-awaited encounter with Trump himself.
But Kim gave no indication Pyongyang might be willing to give up its nuclear weapons, or the missiles with which it can reach the mainland United States.
The North had successfully developed its arsenal, including miniaturising warheads to fit them on to missiles, Kim said, and so “no nuclear test and intermediate-range and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire are necessary for the DPRK now.”
As such the North’s nuclear testing site was no longer needed, he told the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to the official KCNA news agency.
The party decided that nuclear blasts and ICBM launches will cease as of Saturday — the North has not carried any out since November — and the atomic test site at Punggye-ri will be dismantled to “transparently guarantee” the end of testing.
Within minutes of the report being issued, Trump tweeted: “This is very good news for North Korea and the World — big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”
Seoul too welcomed the announcement, calling it “meaningful progress” toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
But Kim offered no sign he might be willing to give up what he called the North’s “treasured sword,” saying its possession of nuclear weapons was “the firm guarantee by which our descendants can enjoy the most dignified and happiest life in the world.”
Pyongyang has made rapid technological progress in its weapons programs under Kim, which has seen it subjected to increasingly strict sanctions by the UN Security Council, the United States, the European Union, South Korea and others.
Last year it carried out its sixth nuclear blast, by far its most powerful to date, while Kim and Trump traded threats of war and personal insults as tensions ramped up.
Even when there was an extended pause in testing, US officials said that it could not be interpreted as a halt without an explicit statement from Pyongyang.
South Korean envoys have previously cited Kim as promising no more tests, but Saturday’s news is the first such announcement directly by Pyongyang.
Analysts cautioned that while the declaration was welcome, Pyongyang appeared determined to retain its nuclear capability.
“Certainly this is a positive development,” said Daniel Pinkston of Troy University. “It’s a necessary but not sufficient step in North Korea returning to its past non-proliferation commitments.”
And Christopher Green of the International Crisis Group added on Twitter: “I don’t see how North Korean statement constitutes a step toward denuclearization. It is a moratorium on testing, but recommits North Korea to nuclear weapons status.”
Japan — which has seen missiles fly over its territory — said it was not satisfied with Pyongyang’s pledge, pointing out North Korea did not mention the short- or medium-range missiles that put Tokyo within reach.
The formal declaration of an end to testing comes after Kim stated in his New Year speech that the development of North Korea’s nuclear force had been completed.
In the same address, he said he had a nuclear button on his desk, prompting Trump to tweet that he had a bigger one of his own.
Events have moved rapidly since then, catalyzed by the Winter Olympics in the South, and Seoul is now pushing for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, raising hopes that a settlement can finally be reached on the peninsula.
But there is a long way to go and Moon himself acknowledged this week that the “devil is in the details.”
The US is seeking the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the North, while according to Moon, Pyongyang wants security guarantees, potentially leaving much space for disagreement.
The North has long demanded the withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula and an end to its nuclear umbrella over South Korea, something unthinkable in Washington.
But Kim told the Workers’ Party meeting: “A fresh climate of detente and peace is being created on the Korean peninsula and the region and dramatic changes are being made in the international political landscape.”
For years, the impoverished North has pursued a “byungjin” policy of “simultaneous development” of both the military and the economy.
But the leader said that as it was now a powerful state, “the whole party and country” should concentrate on “socialist economic construction,” in what he called the party’s “new strategic line.”
Several factors have driven the Korean rapprochement, including the North feeling that it can now negotiate from a position of strength, concern about the belligerence of the Trump administration, and the looming impact of sanctions.


Four parties agree to Western Sahara talks

Updated 5 min 18 sec ago
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Four parties agree to Western Sahara talks

  • The United Nations has repeatedly failed to broker a settlement over the north African territory
  • Seeking to re-launch the political process, UN envoy Horst Koehler has invited the concerned parties to Geneva

NEW YORK: Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario Front have accepted a UN invitation to hold talks in December on ending the decades-old conflict in Western Sahara, the UN spokesman said Tuesday.
The United Nations has repeatedly failed to broker a settlement over the north African territory, where Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario fought for control from 1975 to 1991.
Seeking to re-launch the political process, UN envoy Horst Koehler has invited the four parties to Geneva on December 5-6 for a first round of meetings that could pave the way to formal negotiations.
Koehler, a former German president and ex-director of the International Monetary Fund, last month sent letters of invitation to the talks and set an October 20 deadline to respond.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that Morocco, the Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania “have confirmed that they will be attending the talks” in Geneva.

The Berm, an artificial sand barrier, divides the Western Sahara.

The preliminary talks however may quickly hit a wall as Morocco maintains that negotiations on a settlement should focus on its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara.
The Polisario insists that the status of the territory should be decided in a referendum on independence.
Algeria also maintains that a solution to the conflict must uphold the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.
The last round of UN-sponsored informal talks was held in 2012.
The United Nations brokered a cease-fire deal between Morocco and the Polisario in 1990 that provided for a referendum, but the vote never materialized.
A small peacekeeping mission of some 700 personnel is monitoring the cease-fire line but the Security Council has put fresh pressure on the sides to return to the negotiating table.
A settlement in Western Sahara would allow the UN mission there, known as MINURSO, to end its mission at a time when the United States is seeking to reduce the cost of peace operations.
In his invitation to the parties, seen by AFP, Koehler asked the sides to submit proposals for talks and has described the Geneva meeting as a round-table discussion.
The planned talks will be discussed at the Security Council later this month as it weighs a mandate renewal for MINURSO.