Kim Jong-un has signalled that North Korea will lift its moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests in a move likely to anger Donald Trump.
The North Korean leader told a four-day meeting of party officials in Pyongyang that the test ban, which Kim agreed to in talks with the US president, was no longer needed, state media said on Wednesday.
Kim also reportedly said his country planned to introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future.
In response, Trump said he had a good relationship with Kim and believed the North Korean leader would keep his word to refrain from nuclear and long-range missile tests.
“He did sign a contract, he did sign an agreement talking about denuclearisation. … That was done in Singapore, and I think he’s a man of his word, so we’re going to find out,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said he hoped North Korea would choose peace over war. “So, seeing that reporting publicly, it remains the case that we hope that chairman Kim will take a different course,” Pompeo told Fox News in an interview. “We’re hopeful that … chairman Kim will make the right decision – he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.”
In an interview with CBS News, Pompeo said Kim should honour commitments he made in meetings with Trump last year. “If chairman Kim has reneged on the commitments he made to president Trump, that is deeply disappointing,” Pompeo said. “He made those commitments to president Trump in exchange for president Trump agreeing not to conduct large-scale military exercises. We’ve lived up to our commitments. We continue to hold out hope that he will live up to his as well.”
North Korea has previously fired missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland and has carried out six nuclear tests.
A self-imposed ban has been at the centre of the nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington over the past two years, which has involved three meetings between him and Trump, but little tangible progress.
The US had made “gangster-like demands” in the talks process, Kim said, including continuing joint military drills with South Korea, adopting cutting edge weapons and imposing sanctions.
“The world will witness a new strategic weapon possessed by [North Korea] in the near future,” Kim said.
“We will reliably put on constant alert the powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the US and guaranteeing our long-term security.”
Analysts said the declaration amounted to Kim putting a missile “to Donald Trump’s head” but that escalation by Pyongyang would probably backfire.
Any actual test is likely to infuriate Trump, who has repeatedly referred to Kim‘s “promise” to him not to carry them out, and played down launches of shorter-range weapons.
Negotiations between the two sides have been largely deadlocked since the breakup of their Hanoi summit in February.
The North Korean leader’s announcement on Wednesday came after the United States missed a year-end deadline for a restart of denuclearisation talks.
Kim convened the rare meeting of the ruling party’s policy-making committee on Saturday as the US had not responded to his repeated calls for concessions to reopen negotiations, dismissing the deadline as artificial.
“There is no ground for us to get unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer,” the official KCNA news agency cited Kim telling top ruling party officials.
“The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future,” he added, using the acronym for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The announcement preceded Kim’s annual new year speech, a key moment in the North Korean political calendar, reviewing the past and setting out goals for the future. It will be Kim’s eighth such address after he revived the tradition started by his grandfather – North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung – but discontinued during his father’s rule.
Kim made clear to party officials that the North was willing to live under international sanctions to preserve its nuclear capability.
“The US is raising demands contrary to the fundamental interests of our state and is adopting brigandish attitude,” KCNA cited him as saying.
Washington had “conducted tens of big and small joint military drills which its president personally promised to stop” and sent high-tech military equipment to the South, he said, and stepped up sanctions against the North.
“We can never sell our dignity,” he added, saying Pyongyang would “shift to a shocking actual action to make [the US] pay for the pains sustained by our people”.
For months, Pyongyang has been demanding the easing of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, while Washington has insisted it takes more tangible steps towards giving them up.
“North Korea has, in effect, put an ICBM to Donald Trump’s head in order to gain the two concessions it wants most: sanctions relief and some sort of security guarantee,” said Harry Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest in Washington.
“Kim Jong-un is playing a dangerous game of geopolitical chicken,” he added.
“He is gambling that threatening another demonstration of his ability to hit the US homeland with a nuclear weapon will somehow push America into granting more concessions.”
But the strategy was unlikely to be effective, he said, as Washington was likely to respond with “more sanctions, an increased military presence in East Asia and more fire and fury threats coming from Donald Trump’s Twitter account”.
The US has already indicated that it will react if the North carried out a long-range missile test.
An ICBM launch would also be likely to frustrate China, the North’s key diplomatic backer and provider of trade and aid, which always stresses stability in a region it regards as its backyard.
But ties between Pyongyang and Beijing have warmed markedly in the past two years, with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, paying his first visit to the North as head of state in June, and Beijing and Washington at loggerheads over trade and other issues.
In December China and Russia – another key economic partner for the North – proposed loosening UN sanctions against Pyongyang, and analysts said Kim is likely to seek to exploit rivalries between Washington, Beijing and Moscow.