‘Shrewd & mature N. Korean leader has won this round' – Putin on peninsula crisis

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has emerged a winner in the latest crisis around the Korean Peninsula, Russian president Vladimir Putin said. He believes Pyongyang is now trying to defuse tensions.

I believe, Mr Kim Jong-un has certainly won this round,” Putin told journalists at a meeting with the Russian media. He said North Korea has achieved its strategic goal.

 
Ri Son Gwon exchanges documents with Cho Myoung-gyon, January 9, 2018.  © Yonhap

“He has a nuclear [charge] and a … missile with a range of up to 13,000 kilometers that can reach almost any place on Earth or at least any territory of his potential adversary,” Putin told journalists on Thursday. The Russian president said the North Korean leader is likely to be seeking an easing of tensions in the region.

“He is already an absolutely shrewd and mature politician,” Putin added.

The latest crisis around the Korean Peninsula broke out in September 2017 after Pyongyang claimed it had conducted a hydrogen bomb test. The US responded to North Korean actions by flexing its muscles and conducting a number of military drills in the region with its allies South Korea and Japan. North Korea replied to this saber-rattling by conducting several missile tests, including one, according to Pyongyang, involving an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Both Pyongyang and Washington, along with its allies, added further fuel to the fire by issuing repeated threats against one another. US President Donald Trump repeatedly said the US could use a “military option” in dealing with the crisis and even threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” during the annual General Debate of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. More recently Trump said in a Twitter post that his “nuclear button” is “bigger and more powerful.”

Russia and China, by contrast, have called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis from from the outset. Moscow and Beijing put forward a “double freeze” initiative that envisaged the US and its allies halting all major military exercises in the region in exchange for Pyongyang suspending its nuclear and ballistic missile program. The initiative was, however, turned down by Washington.

 
Head of North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon, is greeted by a South Korean official as he crosses a concrete border to attend their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, January 9, 2018. © Korea Pool

Russia also repeatedly called on all parties involved in the Korean crisis to “break the vicious cycle of confrontation, reckless schemes and sanctions” and engage into a meaningful dialog instead. In December, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said North Korea wants to engage in a direct dialog with the US to assure its security, adding that Russia could help with these talks.

In January, Pyongyang and Seoul agreed to hold high-level bilateral talks to discuss the North’s potential participation in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, as well as other issues related to improving relations. The move followed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year message, in which he wished success for the 2018 Olympics.

During the talks held on January 9, the two sides agreed on the participation of North Korean athletes in the South Korean Olympics. They also discussed the potential reunification of families separated by the Korean War. In a significant breakthrough, the two Koreas agreed on talks between army officials in order to avoid dangerous military incidents.

Pyongyang’s chief negotiator, however said there was no need to discuss the North Korean nuclear program because all its weapons “are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, nor China and Russia.” Trump meanwhile has claimed it was his aggressive stance that made the negotiations between two Koreas possible.

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North Korea Warns of a Hydrogen Bomb Test amid US Threats

A senior North Korean officials warned of “the most powerful detonation” of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific if the country felt hostility from the United States.

A senior North Korean diplomat warned that the United States could witness a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean unless discussion of military intervention ceased.

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This latest development comes amid joint U.S.-South Korea war games and a heavy navy presence in the Pacific ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to the region. Trump’s visit is expected to solidify regional commitments to security against North Korea, which the U.S. sees as a threat.

During a session of the United Nations General Assembly last month, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said that Pyongyang would conduct “the most powerful detonation” of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific if the country felt hostility.

“The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally,” said Ri Yong Pil, a senior diplomat in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, to CNN, warning that North Korea “has always brought its words into action.”

Members of the international community, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have accused the U.S. of stoking nuclear tensions through decertifying the Iran nuclear deal, despite no evidence of noncompliance, and aggression against North Korea.

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed the ‘The Otto Warmbier North Korea Nuclear Sanctions Act’ that would level the “harshest sanctions ever” against North Korea. The sanctions would also target international business partners of North Korea, most importantly China, if signed into law.

President Trump has also coupled sanctions with threatening words.

“You would be shocked to see how totally prepared we are if we need to be,” Trump said in a FOX News interview. “Would it be nice not to do that (military intervention)? The answer is yes.”

Trump, in a conference with top military officials, called present tensions “the calm before the storm.”

“The U.S. is talking about a military option and even practicing military moves. They’re pressuring us on all fronts with sanctions. If you think this will lead to diplomacy, you’re deeply mistaken,” Ri said.

The U.S. has bolstered its military presence around the Korean peninsula since the war of words began. The U.S. military has also put nuclear-capable B-52 bombers on a 24-hour alert, which has not happened since the end of the Cold War.

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“The joint military exercises conducted by the U.S. one after another all the year round on the Korean peninsula are clearly aggressive war exercises in their nature and scale,” Ja Song-nam, North Korea's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said in a letter to Francois Delattre, the current President of the United Nations Security Council.

“No other country in the world than the DPRK (North Korea) has ever been subjected to such an extreme and direct nuclear threat from the U.S. for such a long time and witnessed on its door such nuclear war exercises which are the most vicious and ferocious in their scale, style, aim and essence,” the letter continued.

With building tensions, the international community has encouraged dialogue between both sides. China introduced a “double freeze” tactic, identical to previous North Korean proposals, that would see North Korea end its nuclear program in exchange for promises by the U.S. to end hostility. The U.S. denied this plan as it has done in the past.

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