North Korea's nuclear program targeting US, Japanese lawmaker says
The Washington Post | .
published: September 14, 2016
TOKYO — North Korea's nuclear program is directed at the United States, a close adviser to Kim Jong Un said after last week's atomic test, according to a Japanese lawmaker who just returned from Pyongyang.
The warning came as two U.S. military B-1 bombers flew over the southern half of the peninsula in a show of force against North Korea, and top military brass and diplomats alike warned Pyongyang the United States was prepared to take all steps to contain and punish the regime.
North Korea defied United Nations resolutions and international warnings by detonating its fifth and largest nuclear weapon Friday, declaring that it was a warhead that could be used to counter "the American threat."
Antonio Inoki, a former professional wrestler who now serves in Japan's parliament, returned Tuesday from a five-day visit to Pyongyang saying that Japan need not worry about the North's nuclear program.
"This is not directed at Japan. The nuclear development is toward the United States," Inoki quoted Ri Su Yong, an elder statesman of North Korean foreign affairs who is particularly close to Kim, as saying.
Ri was Pyongyang's ambassador to Switzerland while Kim, now the 32-year-old North Korean leader, attended school there. He served as foreign minister in Kim's regime until May, when he was promoted further up the Workers' Party ranks and became a full member of the politburo and director of the party's international relations department.
Inoki, who has tried to be a bridge between Japan and North Korea, told Japanese reporters who were waiting for him at Beijing airport that he spent 90 minutes with Ri on Saturday, the day after the nuclear test. But these were the only remarks he made as he arrived at the airport.
His trip coincided with the nuclear test and followed a series of provocative missile launches, several of which have landed within Japan's air defense identification zone, earning harsh condemnation from Japan.
Although the missiles North Korea has been testing put only South Korea and parts of Japan and China within reach, many analysts agree that this is part of a larger program aimed at developing an inter-continental ballistic missile capable to reaching the U.S. mainland. The bigger goal is to attach a nuclear warhead to that missile, they say.
The North Korean regime exists entirely on its opposition to the United States, with whom it signed an armistice agreement at the end of the Korean War, and gains its legitimacy from resisting the "American imperialists."
Pyongyang put out another dismissive statement Tuesday about the reaction to its nuclear test. "The U.S. and its followers are making much fuss, creating impression that a nuclear bomb was dropped in downtown Washington or Seoul," the Korean Central News Agency reported.
"Neither sanctions nor provocation nor pressure can ever bring down the position of the DPRK as a full-fledged nuclear weapons state, and high-handed political and military provocations of the enemies will only invite a merciless nuclear strike which will lead them to a final ruin," the report said, using the official abbreviation for North Korea.
In Seoul, American and South Korean officials stepped up their warnings to the Kim regime.
"North Korea's nuclear test is a dangerous escalation and poses an unacceptable threat," said General Vincent K. Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea as two B-1B Lancers, which carry the largest payload of any American bomber, flew over South Korea together with American F-16s and South Korean F-15Ks.
The bombers were moved to an American air force base in Guam in August as part of a build-up against North Korea, and conducted a training exercise with Japanese fighter jets over the southern island of Kyushu while they were en route to the Korean peninsula.
"Today's demonstration provides just one example of the full range of military capabilities in the deep resources of this strong alliance to provide and strengthen extended deterrence," Brooks said.
Separately, Sung Kim, Washington's pointman on North Korea, said after meeting his South Korean counterpart that the latest nuclear test has bolstered international resolve to hold North Korea accountable.
"We are, of course, working . . . to take additional significant steps including new sanctions to demonstrate to North Korea that there indeed are serious consequences for its unlawful and dangerous actions," he said.
The United Nations security council, which imposed tough new sanctions after the nuclear test in January, has also condemned the test and vowed to respond.
As such, the meeting between Ri and Inoki came at a particularly sensitive time.
Inoki entered politics by creating his own "Sports and Peace Party" and has organized two wrestling tournaments in Pyongyang, the most recent of which featured three Americans as well as Japanese wrestlers.
Inoki hoped that the event would kick-start Japanese government efforts to find out what happened to 12 Japanese citizens who were abducted during the 1970s and 1980s to train North Korean spies in the Japanese language and ways. The issue that has plagued relations between the two countries for years.
Pyongyang admitted seizing the Japanese nationals and allowed five abductees return home in 2002, but said the remaining 12 had died in North Korea.
However, in 2014, Kim's regime agreed to reopen the investigation. But it soon ground to a halt and earlier this year Pyongyang said it was suspending cooperation.
Inoki's continuing ties with North Korea have been controversial in Japan. Yoshihide Suga, a top aide to the Japanese prime minister, was critical of the visit. said in "We ask all Japanese people to refrain from traveling to North Korea as an anti-North Korean measure, and we had notified this lawmaker Inoki of this before his visit," Suga said Tuesday. "With that in mind, I have to say it was extremely inappropriate that he had gone."