South Korea's spy agency warned lawmakers Thursday that it suspects North Korea may be readying another missile test, Reuters reports. "The active movement of vehicles around the missile research institute in Pyongyang" raises the possibility, Reuters says, just days before President Trump is expected to visit South Korea Nov. 7-8 as part of his nearly two-week trip to five Asian countries.
North Korea has not launched a missile since it fired one over Japan on Sept. 15, but it has recently warned the world to take "literally" the country's threat to test a nuclear weapon above ground. Trump will address the South Korean National Assembly on Nov. 8 in a speech where he plans to call for "maximizing" pressure on Pyongyang.
China was the last country to conduct an above ground nuclear test, in 1980. A North Korean above ground nuclear test would be seen as a significant escalation of tensions between the United States and North Korea. Kelly O'Meara Morales
The United States is engaged in direct talks with North Korean diplomats even as President Trump has publicly claimed negotiations are a waste of his secretary of state's time, Reuters reports. U.S. negotiator Joseph Yun has quietly been in conversation with officials in Pyongyang's United Nations mission, despite Trump's not infrequent threats against the country and its leader, Kim Jong Un.
I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man...
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
Our country has been unsuccessfully dealing with North Korea for 25 years, giving billions of dollars & getting nothing. Policy didn't work!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2017
Conversation between the U.S. and North Korea "has not been limited at all, both [in] frequency and substance," explained one senior State Department official.
Yun is a part of the so-called "New York channel" to North Korea. He initially worked specifically on freeing U.S. citizens held by Pyongyang. Yun, for example, traveled to North Korea in June to help return Otto Warmbier stateside. But Yun's mission "is [now] a broader mandate than that," the State Department official said. Jeva Lange
A North Korean official announced Monday that Pyongyang has no interest in diplomacy with the United States until it develops an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach "all the way to the East Coast of the mainland U.S.," CNN reports.
"Before we can engage in diplomacy with the Trump administration, we want to send a clear message that the DPRK has a reliable defensive and offensive capability to counter any aggression from the United States," the official said.
Trump has gone back and forth on whether talking with North Korea is any sort of "answer." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on the contrary, told Fox News that diplomacy will continue "until the first bomb drops." Jeva Lange
Defense experts have long warned that American anti-missile capabilities are still a longshot technology that likely would fail against a determined foe — say, North Korea. The U.S. government and media hasn't curbed its excitement about Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense systems, though, with Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves claiming a successful test in July proves America will "stay ahead of the evolving threat."
Not so, writes Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione. "Reporters routinely use words like 'shield' and 'dome' to describe our supposed capability, giving us a false sense of security," Cirincione wrote for Defense One. "Officials make the matter worse with exaggerated, if carefully constructed, claims."
He added that "the number one reason we don't shoot down North Korea's missiles is that we cannot," pointing to North Korea's missile test that flew over Japan last week:
If North Korea cooperated and shot their new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-14, at the United States with adequate warning so that we could prepare, and if the warhead looked pretty much like we expect it to look, and if they only shot one, and if they did not try to spoof the defense with decoys that looked like the warhead, or block the defense with low-power jammers, or hide the warhead in a cloud of chaff, or blind the defense by attacking the vulnerable radars, then, maybe [the U.S. military could defend against a North Korean attack]. The United States might have a 50-50 chance of hitting such a missile. If we had time to fire four or five interceptors, then the odds could go up. [Defense One]
But "North Korea is unlikely to cooperate," Cirincione adds. Read his full, chilling warning at Defense One, and more about if America can protect itself against North Korean missiles here at The Week. Jeva Lange
North Korea's military force will soon reach "equilibrium" with that of the United States, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un boasted Saturday. "We should clearly show the big power chauvinists how our state attain the goal of completing its nuclear force despite their limitless sanctions and blockade," Kim said, as reported by the country's state media.
The statements came one day after North Korea fired another ballistic missile over Japan on Friday, which traveled 2,300 miles, farther than any other North Korean ballistic missile. The launch prompted the U.N. Security Council to accuse the nation of undermining regional peace and security. Jessica Hullinger
The South Korean military said North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile early Friday morning from a site near the capital of Pyongyang, with a Japanese government spokesperson saying it flew into the sea 1,242 miles east of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
The missile is believed to have reached an altitude of 478 miles and traveled about 2,300 miles, the military said. On Thursday, a North Korean state agency called the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee warned that the "four islands of the [Japanese] archipelago should be sunken into the sea by [our] nuclear bomb," and "Japan is no longer needed to exist near us." In response to this latest launch of a missile over Japan, the second in less than three weeks, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called an emergency meeting of his national security council. Catherine Garcia
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed to more sanctions against North Korea, following the country's sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3.
The sanctions cap North Korea's imports of refined and crude oil at 8.5 million barrels a year, and ban textile exports, which last year accounted for more than a quarter of North Korea's export income. The United States had to soften its initial resolution in order to get Russia and China on board. China, responsible for 90 percent of North Korea's foreign trade, is worried that if the economy there becomes too unstable, North Korean refugees will flood into China.
Previous sanctions have affected coal, iron ore, and seafood exports, and a U.S. official familiar with the new resolution told The Washington Post that more than 90 percent of North Korea's exports are now covered by sanctions. Catherine Garcia
The United States has softened language in its draft for new sanctions on North Korea ahead of a U.N. Security Council vote on Monday that risks a veto by Russia or China, Reuters reports. The proposal for new sanctions follows Pyongyang's nuclear test on Sept. 3. American diplomats' initial draft sought an oil embargo, a halt on North Korea's textile exports, and a financial and travel ban on leader Kim Jong Un. The latest draft, meant to earn the support of Russia and China, does away with the restrictions on Kim and eases the terms of the oil and gas bans.
North Korea warned that America would pay a "due price" for its push for new sanctions. "The world will witness how [North Korea] tames the U.S. gangsters by taking a series of actions tougher than they have ever envisaged," one spokesperson said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has opposed stricter sanctions on North Korea, particularly those involving oil, warning of the humanitarian downside, Reuters reports. China, which supplies oil to the North, also likely would have used its veto power if the strict oil sanctions had made it into the final draft.
South Korea, on the other hand, has pushed the council for tough measures against its northern neighbor, insisting that "oil has to be part of the final sanctions."
"I do believe that whatever makes it into the final text and is adopted by consensus hopefully will have significant consequences on the economic pressure against North Korea," said South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. Jeva Lange