Kim Jong Un is once again showing the US exactly how disinterested he is in negotiating any settlement - particularly one that ultimately forces North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons: To wit, Kim ordered more rockets and warheads during a televised visit to a local munitions factory just hours after Secretary of Defense James Mattis praised Kim’s “restraint” for not having launched any new missile strikes since the latest round of UN sanctions took effect on Aug. 5. Mattis also reiterated that the Trump administration would be open to talks.
Here’s Mattis (via the Wall Street Journal):
“I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past,” Mr. Tillerson said in a news briefing in Washington. “We hope that this is the beginning of this signal that we have been looking for.”
To be sure, if the “Mad Dog” was looking for signs of a détente from North Korea, he’s bound to be disappointed. Though the date of Kim’s visit to the munitions factory wasn’t disclosed, the North Korean leader could clearly be heard ordering the program to press ahead with its quest to develop a nuclear warhead that could reliably target the Continental US. He also showed off two new additions to his arsenal.
“Mr. Kim’s visit, the date of which wasn’t disclosed by Pyongyang in its report Wednesday, underscores North Korea’s continued investment in its ability to threaten the continental U.S. with a nuclear-tipped long-range missile.”
As WSJ notes, while Kim’s temporary discontinuation of the missile tests has been perceived as an encouraging sign by some, the real issue is the North’s nuclear program, and any progress their engineers might be making. US intelligence agencies believe the Kim regime possess the capability to reach the US with an ICBM.
From Mattis, any statement connoting positivity regarding the relationship between the US and North is indeed rare. The general has typically backed his boss’s aggressive tone when speaking about the isolated nation publicly, like he did during an appearance on Fox & Friends earlier this month…
“Defense Secretary James Mattis warned North Korea in stark terms on Wednesday that it faces devastation if it does not end its pursuit of nuclear weapons: "The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons," Mattis said in a statement adding "The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people."
Photos published by the KCNA along with Wednesday’s report showed Kim inspecting what looked to be two new missiles.
“Photos published alongside Wednesday’s report by the official Korean Central News Agency showed Mr. Kim and other officials standing in front of diagrams. Missile experts said the diagrams appeared to show at least two never-before-seen missiles, including one that looked to be a variant of a solid-fueled missile that North Korea launched from a submarine last year.
Pyongyang in February launched a land-based version of the solid-fueled missile, known as the Polaris-2. Solid-fuel missiles, unlike traditional liquid-fueled ones, don’t need to be fueled on the launchpad—a laborious process that makes the weapon vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike.”
The photos represent a clear message to the US: North Korea has no intention of halting its nuclear weapons program.
“’Pyongyang’s release of photos indicating yet two more new missiles in development shows it has no intention of halting its continuing quest to threaten the U.S. and its allies with nuclear weapons,’ said Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation.
“A two-week adherence of North Korea to U.N. prohibitions against missile tests hardly counts as a significant indicator of benign intent by the regime,” he added, referring to the United Nations Security Council’s newest round of sanctions earlier this month.”
Another of the WSJ’s “expert” sources said the missile program is probably “untouchable” for now, but that diplomacy could still be worth pursuing.
“’The missile-building program is unstinting,’ said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
“Diplomacy cannot touch that for now.”
But Mr. Cronin argued that the U.S. should continue to pursue diplomacy with Pyongyang, and encourage any signs of progress -- including the recent dearth of missile tests.
North Korea hasn’t launched a missile in 26 days, though the launch of its first ICBM on July 4 came after a 35-day pause.
“North Korea has shown glimmers of restraint for now and the U.S. seeks to encourage more, but is ready to move in the opposite direction as well,” Mr. Cronin said.”
In summary, the Pyongyang report was of a kind with what North Korea has said from the beginning: It will not give up its weapons. End of story.