‘High possibility’ North Korea will test nuclear weapons again

Kim Jong-un tells US it sent a ‘package of gifts on its Independence Day’ after missile test

South Korea has warned of a "high possibility" that North Korea will stage another nuclear test after it test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), with fears growing that it may soon be able to miniaturise a warhead.

On the day after the test, China and Russia issued a joint communiqué calling for negotiations, while US secretary of state Rex Tillerson urged global action to end the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear programme.

North Korea triumphantly proclaimed that its new missile was able to carry a large warhead to the US mainland, a nightmare scenario for Donald Trump’s government.

South Korea’s defence minister Han Min-koo said a key point was whether its warhead functioned from a military standpoint when it re-entered the atmosphere.


Mr Han told South Korea's parliament, the National Assembly, there was a "high" possibility of Pyongyang carrying out another nuclear test, its sixth, because the North had a history of conducting nuclear experiments following long-range rocket tests.

“I think the likelihood is high given that (becoming a nuclear power) is the North’s national goal,” he said, quoted by the Yonhap news agency.

The missile launch came shortly before the Group of 20 nations meet in Hamburg to discuss how to rein in North Korea's weapons programme, which defies UN Security Council sanctions.

The North’s state news agency KCNA said leader Kim Jong-un described the test as completing his country’s “strategic weapons capability that includes atomic and hydrogen bombs and ICBMs.”

He said the North would not negotiate with the US to give up its nukes until Washington abandons its hostile policy against the North.

“He, with a broad smile on his face, told officials, scientists and technicians that the US would be displeased ... as it was given a ‘package of gifts’ on its ‘Independence Day’,” KCNA said.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been turbulent in recent weeks over North Korea.

President Trump initially felt that he had won assurances from his Chinese counterpart to put pressure on North Korea, a long-term ally that relies on Chinese support to keep functioning, but since then Mr Trump has tweeted that he doesn't think Beijing is doing enough.

Washington subsequently angered Beijing with the imposition of unilateral sanctions against a small Chinese bank, the Bank of Dandong, over its dealings with North Korea.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson warned that any country that hosts North Korean workers, provides economic or military aid to Pyongyang, or fails to implement UN sanctions “is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime”.

“All nations should publicly demonstrate to North Korea that there are consequences to their pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Mr Tillerson said in a statement.

Russia and China issued a joint communiqué repeating their line urging all rival parties to adopt China’s plan that would see Pyongyang suspend its nuclear plan and the US and South Korea call a moratorium on military drills, which Pyongyang sees as preparation for invasion.

The communiqué also reiterated China and Russia’s opposition to the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system, which South Korea and the US say is necessary to counter growing North Korean belligerence, but which Moscow and Beijing say brings “serious harm to the strategic security interest of countries, including China and Russia.”

Additional reporting: Agencies

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing