North Korea ends test moratoriums, threatens ‘new’ weapon

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared an end to moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and threatened a demonstration of a “new strategic weapon” soon. (STR/KCNA VIA KNS/AFP)
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Updated 01 January 2020

North Korea ends test moratoriums, threatens ‘new’ weapon

  • Analysts said the announcement amounted to Kim putting a missile ‘to Donald Trump’s head’
  • The broadcast appeared to stand in place of Kim’s usual New Year speech

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared an end to moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and threatened a demonstration of a “new strategic weapon” soon.
Analysts said the announcement, reported by state media on Wednesday, amounted to Kim putting a missile “to Donald Trump’s head” — but warned that escalation by Pyongyang would probably backfire.
Washington was swift to respond, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging Kim to “take a different course” and stressing that the US wanted “peace not confrontation” with the North, while Trump played down the development.
Pyongyang has previously fired missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland, and has carried out six nuclear tests, the last of them 16 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast, according to the highest estimates.
A self-imposed ban on such tests — Kim declared they were no longer needed — has been a centerpiece of the nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington over the past two years, which has seen three meetings between Kim and US President Donald Trump, but little tangible progress.
Any actual test is likely to infuriate Trump, who has repeatedly referred to Kim’s “promise” to him not to carry them out, and has downplayed launches of shorter-range weapons.
Negotiations between the two sides have been largely deadlocked since the breakup of their Hanoi summit in February, and the North set the US an end-of-year deadline for it to offer fresh concessions on sanctions relief, or it would adopt a “new way.”

“There is no ground for us to get unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer,” the official KCNA news agency cited Kim as telling top ruling party officials.
“The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future,” he added, referring to the North by its official name.
The full meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party was an indication of a major policy shift.
State television showed veteran newsreader Ri Chun Hee reading out the KCNA dispatch over footage of Kim addressing the officials and general imagery of the country.
The broadcast appeared to stand in place of Kim’s usual New Year speech — normally a key moment in the North Korean political calendar.
Kim acknowledged the impact of international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its weapons programs, but made clear that the North was willing to pay the price to preserve its nuclear capability.
“The US is raising demands contrary to the fundamental interests of our state and is adopting brigandish attitude,” KCNA cited him as saying.
Washington had “conducted tens of big and small joint military drills which its president personally promised to stop” and sent high-tech military equipment to the South, he said.

For months, Pyongyang has been demanding the easing of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, while Washington has insisted it takes more tangible steps toward giving them up.
“North Korea has, in effect, put an ICBM to Donald Trump’s head in order to gain the two concessions it wants most: sanctions relief and some sort of security guarantee,” said Harry Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest in Washington.
“Kim Jong-un is playing a dangerous game of geopolitical chicken,” he added.
The strategy was risky, he said, as Washington was likely to respond with “more sanctions, an increased military presence in East Asia and more fire and fury style threats coming from Donald Trump’s Twitter account.”
Kim’s moratorium comments were “ominous,” said Leif-Eric Easley of Ewha University in Seoul, but added that he could be looking to “elicit concessions by approaching Trump’s red line without crossing it.”
The US has already indicated that it will react if the North carries out a long-range missile test.
Speaking to Fox News and CBS after Kim’s announcement, Pompeo said a resumption of nuclear and missile tests would be “deeply disappointing.”
“We hope that Chairman Kim will take a different course... that he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war,” Pompeo said.
“We want peace, not confrontation,” he added, with Seoul’s unification ministry adding that a strategic weapon test “would not help denuclearization negotiations.”
Trump himself was emollient, saying that he thought Kim was “a man of his word” and that at their Singapore summit “We did sign a contract, talking about denuclearization.”
An ICBM launch would be likely to frustrate China, the North’s key diplomatic backer and provider of trade and aid, which always stresses stability in a region it regards as its own back yard.


Twenty-six held over migrant lorry tragedy in Britain

Updated 1 min 19 sec ago

Twenty-six held over migrant lorry tragedy in Britain

  • The migrants — 31 men and eight women — were found dead in the truck in an industrial zone east of London in October
  • Police swooped in a series of raids around Brussels and Paris as part of a probe also involving British and Irish investigators

BRUSSELS: Police in Belgium and France have arrested 26 suspected people smugglers over the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in a refrigerated truck in Britain last year.
The migrants — 31 men and eight women — were found dead in the truck in an industrial zone east of London in October, sparking an international outcry.
The driver of the lorry has already admitted manslaughter over the deaths but Tuesday’s arrests targeted the ring of smugglers suspected of organizing the migrants’ journey.
Police swooped in a series of raids around Brussels and Paris as part of a probe also involving British and Irish investigators.
In Belgium — where some of the victims stayed before their fateful journey — police held 13 people, including 11 Vietnamese nationals.
“The network set up by the smugglers is suspected of having likely transported up to several dozen people every day for several months,” Belgian federal prosecutors said in a statement Wednesday.
“The organization focused on transporting refugees from Asia, particularly from Vietnam.”
Prosecutors suspect the gang organized the transport of the Vietnamese migrants in the container where they died.
Most of those arrested in France are also Vietnamese, according to an investigation source.
The probe has discovered that the migrants who died were loaded onto the truck in northern France, and that the network continued its operations even after the tragedy, charging 15,000 to 20,000 euros to cross from France to Britain.
Even the coronavirus lockdown did not stop the gang’s smuggling activities, the source said.
The tragedy shone a spotlight on the extraordinary dangers migrants are willing to risk to reach Britain, with some paying smugglers up to $40,000 for the perilous journey.
Post-mortem tests found the victims died from lack of oxygen and overheating, and one sent a poignant text message to her family in Vietnam as she lay dying in the truck.
The victims came from impoverished and remote corners of central Vietnam, a hotspot for people willing to embark on dangerous journeys in the hope of striking it rich abroad.
Many are smuggled illegally through Russia or China, often left owing huge sums to their traffickers and ending up working on cannabis farms or in nail salons.
The driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson of Northern Ireland, last month pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the 39 deaths.
Four other men are on trial in London over the tragedy, while another man, Ronan Hughes, is facing extradition from Ireland to Britain on 39 counts of manslaughter and one of conspiracy to commit unlawful immigration.
Hughes is accused of organizing and controlling the drivers in the trafficking operation.