January 07, 2020 12:24
Speculation is running high in some quarters here whether North Korea will suffer the same fate as Iran and fall victim to U.S. President Donald Trump's new-found belligerence.
The North has certainly been put on notice not to risk any fresh provocations. Trump told reporters on Sunday, "I don't think [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would] break his word to me, but maybe he will."
U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo said he does not believe Trump's impeachment has emboldened North Korea and Iran. He issued an indirect threat by adding that he believes North Korea and Iran know Trump would do the "right thing" to protect American lives.
North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an editorial on Monday that Pyongyang must make a "frontal breakthrough," as Kim had suggested in an extraordinary session of Workers Party Central Committee. According to the daily, masses of North Koreans gathered at an annual rally in Pyongyang on Sunday to show their loyalty to their leader.
"There is no need to hesitate with any expectation of the lifting of sanctions, now that we know the real intention of the United States," it added. The comments came after the U.S. assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' elite Quds Force, a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial and clandestine operations.
North Korean state TV reported Monday that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the U.S. drone attack. The official [North] Korean Central News Agency said China and Russia, which have been shielding the North, "cannot accept" the assassination.
North Korea and Iran's cooperation on nuclear weapons and missile technology goes back around 40 years. Choi Jin-wook, former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, said, "Until now, North Korea has remained silent when the U.S. took hardline measures in the Middle East. Although it will continue nuclear activities, it will not try to agitate the U.S."
But the National Intelligence Service told Liberty Korea Party Lee Eun-jae that North Korea is likely to upgrade its intercontinental ballistic and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, while developing a new ICBM carrying several warheads, each capable of hitting a different target.
Others also suggest that North Korea will take advantage of Trump's attention being diverted. Go Myong-Hyun at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies said North Korea's provocation "could entail the unveiling of a strategic weapon either on Kim Jong-un's birthday on Jan. 8 or Kim Jong-il’s birthday on Feb. 16." Go added, "North Korea will try to use Trump's declining support at a time when U.S.-Iranian relations break down."
Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made a public appearance in about a week of absence from public view with a visit to a fertilizer factory in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province on Monday, according to state media reported on Tuesday. It came amid speculation that he has gone to ground after the U.S.' assassination of Soleimani.
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