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US official vows ‘strong response’ if North Korea tests nuclear weapons

SEOUL – US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Tuesday warned of a forceful response if North Korea conducts its first nuclear test in nearly five years as she traveled to Seoul to meet with South Korean and Japanese allies and discuss the escalating standoff.

US and South Korean officials said North Korea is almost ready to do so perform another detonation at its nuclear test site in the northeastern city of Punggye-ri, which last hosted a test in September 2017 when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb developed for its ICBMs.

While the Biden administration has vowed to push for it further international sanctions If North Korea goes ahead with the nuclear test, the prospects for meaningful new punitive measures are unclear as the United Nations Security Council is divided Russia’s war against Ukraine.

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“Any nuclear test would be a total violation of UN Security Council resolutions. There would be a prompt and forceful response to such a test,” Sherman said after meeting South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong.

“We continue to call on Pyongyang to stop its destabilizing and provocative activities and choose the path of diplomacy,” she said.

Sherman and Cho are planning a trilateral meeting with Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Mori Takeo on Wednesday on North Korea’s nuclear issue. Sherman’s trip to Asia followed North Korea fired a salvo of eight ballistic missiles into the sea on Sunday, possibly setting a new high in one-day launches and prolonging a provocative string of weapons tests this year that included the country’s first ICBM demonstrations since 2017.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could further escalate his brinkmanship by conducting the country’s seventh nuclear test since 2006. Experts say North Korea could use a test claim for the ability to build small nuclear bombs that could be trussed onto an ICBM with multiple warheads or customized over Kim’s growing range of solid-fuel short-range missiles, which pose a growing threat to South Korea and Japan.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Monday there was evidence that one of the passages at the Punggye-ri test site has been reopened, possibly in preparation for a nuclear test.

Hours before Sherman’s meeting in Seoul, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington the United States remained concerned that North Korea could seek its seventh Test “in the coming days.”

The Biden administration’s punitive measures over North Korea’s weapons tests in recent months have been limited to largely symbolic unilateral sanctions. Russia and China vetoed a US-backed resolution that would have imposed additional sanctions on North Korea over its earlier May 25 ballistic tests.

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“We have called on members of the international community, certainly members of the permanent five of the UN Security Council, to be responsible stakeholders in the UN Security Council as the pre-eminent forum for addressing threats to international peace and security,” Price said.

“Unilateral action will never be the most attractive or even the most effective response, and that is especially the case because we are content that we have close allies in the form of Japan and the ROK,” he said, referring to South Korea’s formal name, the Republic of Korea.

North Korean state media have yet to comment on Sunday’s launches. They came after the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan completed a three-day naval exercise with South Korea on Saturday in the Philippine Sea, apparently their first joint exercise with a carrier since November 2017 as the countries look to improve defense drills in the face of North Korean threats.

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North Korea has long condemned the allies’ combined military exercises as invasion rehearsals, often countering it with its own missile exercises, including short-range launches in 2016 and 2017 that simulated nuclear strikes on South Korean ports and US military installations in Japan.

Following the recent North Korean launches, the United States conducted separate joint missile exercises with Japan and South Korea, which it said were aimed at demonstrating its responsiveness.

Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over swapping the lifting of crippling US-led sanctions over the North’s disarmament moves.

Despite tough challenges at home, including a declining economy and a Covid-19 outbreakKim has shown no willingness to completely abandon an arsenal he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.

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His administration has so far rejected offers from the Biden administration for open talks and is clearly committed to turning dormant denuclearization negotiations into a mutual arms reduction process, experts say.

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/07/us-official-vows-forceful-response-if-n-korea-tests-nuke/ US official vows ‘strong response’ if North Korea tests nuclear weapons

Sarah Y. Kim

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