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(News Focus) New N.K. launch pressures U.S. to meet year-end deadline for nuclear talks

North Korea 05:15 November 01, 2019

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's launch of short-range projectiles on Thursday added pressure on the United States to meet an end-of-year deadline for a new proposal on exchanging the regime's nuclear weapons program for economic and political concessions, analysts said.

The U.S. showed no immediate sign of changing its stance, saying only that it is "aware" of the launch and is looking into it in close cooperation with its allies, South Korea and Japan.

A similar response was given after nearly all of North Korea's 11 previous missile and projectile launches this year, beginning in May.

This footage, aired by the (North) Korean Central Television on July 26, 2019, shows a short-range missile being fired from a transporter erector launcher on the Hodo Peninsula near the North's eastern coastal town of Wonsan the previous day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, warned that North Korea could increase the level of its provocations.

"Pyongyang has signaled its patience for the U.S. to accept North Korean demands only extends to the end of the year," he told Yonhap News Agency, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's announcement in April. "At that time, the regime declares it will undertake more dire, though unspecified, measures. Pyongyang could conduct longer-range missile or nuclear tests, which could either trigger stronger U.S. responses or conversely lead Trump to be even more eager to accept a poor deal."

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim have had three meetings since June 2018 to try to reach a deal on the regime's denuclearization.

Though the first summit in Singapore yielded Kim's commitment to "work toward" complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the second summit -- in Vietnam in February 2019 -- ended without an agreement amid differences over how much the North should denuclearize in order to receive sanctions relief from the U.S.

Early this month, the two sides resumed working-level negotiations in line with an agreement reached by Trump and Kim at their impromptu meeting on the inter-Korean border in June. But those talks also ended without notable progress, with the North accusing the U.S. of failing to show up with a new proposal.

Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, highlighted the importance of the year-end deadline set by Kim, saying a continuation of the current impasse between Washington and Pyongyang will only spark a "crisis" akin to the one in 2017.

"North Korea has warned time and time again that if there is no mutually acceptable deal on denuclearization by the end of the year they will set out on a 'new way,'" he said. "That new way seems to me what Pyongyang always does when it wants attention -- setting off a crisis that can't be ignored. And the best way to do that is early in 2020 test an (intercontinental ballistic missile) that can prove once and for all North Korea can hit the U.S. homeland with nuclear weapons."

If that happens, Kazianis said, Trump will lose the only concession he was able to gain in his meetings with Kim -- the suspension of long-range missile and nuclear tests.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) rides a white horse up a snow-covered Mount Paekdu, the country's highest peak on the border with China, after inspecting construction sites at the foot of the mountain, in this footage aired by the North's Korean Central Television on Oct. 16, 2019. Kim is accompanied by senior party officials, including his sister, Kim Yo-jong (L) and Jo Yong-won. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Pyongyang's seriousness about the end-of-year deadline was also evident in the North Korean leader's recent ride up Mount Paekdu on a white horse, according to Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

The mountain is considered sacred in North Korea, and the leader has previously made trips there ahead of major announcements.

"Domestic pressures are likely such that Kim's year-end threat is as much a deadline for economic progress as it is a diplomatic ultimatum," Easley said. "This is why Pyongyang is increasing pressure on Seoul and Washington."

Last week the North demanded the South remove all of its facilities from a long-shuttered joint resort on the North's Mount Kumgang.

Seoul proposed the issued be resolved through face-to-face meetings, but Pyongyang rejected the offer and insisted on settling the matter in writing.

hague@yna.co.kr
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