Monday 19 March 2018

Kim Jong Un briefed on plans for missile tests near Guam

This image made from video by North Korea's KRT shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un receiving a briefing in Pyongyang (KRT via AP Video)
This image made from video by North Korea's KRT shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un receiving a briefing in Pyongyang (KRT via AP Video)
A man takes a photo of a TV news programme showing Kim Jong Un, who has been briefed on his military's plans to launch missiles into waters near Guam (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

North Korea's military has presented leader Kim Jong Un with plans to launch missiles into waters near Guam and "wring the windpipes of the Yankees".

The move came despite both Koreas and the United States signalling their willingness to avert a deepening crisis, with each suggesting a path towards negotiations.

The tentative interest in diplomacy follows unusually combative threats between President Donald Trump and North Korea amid worries Pyongyang is nearing its long-sought goal of being able to send a nuclear missile to the US mainland.

Next week's start of US-South Korean military exercises that enrage the North each year could make diplomacy even more difficult.

During an inspection of the North Korean army's strategic forces, which handles the missile programme, Mr Kim praised the military for drawing up a "close and careful plan".

He also said he would watch the "foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees" a little more before deciding whether to order the missile test, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

Mr Kim appeared in photos sitting at a table with a large map marked by a straight line between what appeared to be north-eastern North Korea and Guam, and passing over Japan - apparently showing the missiles' flight route.

The missile plans were previously announced. Mr Kim said North Korea would conduct the launches if the "Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity", warning the United States to "think reasonably and judge properly" to avoid shaming itself, the news agency said.

The Trump administration had no immediate comments on Mr Kim's declaration.

"We continue to be interested in trying to find a way to get to dialogue, but that's up to him," US secretary of state Rex Tillerson told reporters in Washington.

Lobbing missiles toward Guam, a major US military hub in the Pacific, would be deeply provocative from the US perspective.

A miscalculation on either side could lead to military confrontation. On Monday, US defence secretary James Mattis said Washington would take out any such missile seen to be heading for American soil, warning that such a North Korean attack could mean war.

Mr Kim's conditional tone, however, hinted the friction could ease if the US offered a gesture that Pyongyang sees as a step back from "extremely dangerous reckless actions".

That could refer to the US-South Korean military drills set to begin on August 21, which the North claims are rehearsals for invasion.

It also could mean the B-1B bombers that the US occasionally flies over the Korean Peninsula as a show of force.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, a liberal who favours diplomacy, urged North Korea to stop provocations and to commit to talks over its nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Moon, in a televised speech, said Seoul and Washington agree that the nuclear stand-off should "absolutely be solved peacefully". He said no US military action on the Korean Peninsula could be taken without Seoul's consent.

Mr Moon said the North could spur talks by stopping nuclear and missile tests.

"Our government will put everything on the line to prevent another war on the Korean Peninsula," Mr Moon said. "Regardless of whatever twist and turns we could experience, the North Korean nuclear programme should absolutely be solved peacefully, and the (South Korean) government and the US government don't have a different position on this."

The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Marine Corps Gen Joseph Dunford, on Monday met with senior South Korean military and political officials and the local media, seeking to ease anxiety while showing his willingness to back Mr Trump's warnings if need be.

The US wants to peacefully resolve tensions with North Korea, but Washington is also ready to use the "full range" of its military capabilities, Gen Dunford said.

He is also visiting Japan and China after a week in which Mr Trump declared the US military "locked and loaded" and said he was ready to unleash "fire and fury" if North Korea continued to threaten the United States.

North Korea's military said last week it would finalise the plan to fire four ballistic missiles near Guam, which is about 2,000 miles from Pyongyang.


Press Association

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