President Donald Trump said that North Korea must denuclearize and that its leader, Kim Jong Un, has “too much to lose” if he acts in a hostile manner, adding that if Kim interferes with the 2020 presidential election, their relationship could end.
Trump’s comments came after North Korea said on Dec. 8 that the country had conducted a “very important” test at its once-dismantled rocket testing launch site, according to the state media agency KCNA.
The Sohae satellite launch site was one that U.S. officials said Pyongyang had promised to close. Last year, at the start of denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea, the site had been partially dismantled, according to The Associated Press.
“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Dec. 8.
“He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November. North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised. NATO, China, Russia, Japan, and the entire world is unified on this issue!”
….with the U.S. Presidential Election in November. North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised. NATO, China, Russia, Japan, and the entire world is unified on this issue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2019
Pyongyang has also repeatedly talked about an end-of-year deadline that Kim set for denuclearization talks with Washington.
On Dec. 7, Trump told reporters that Kim “knows I have an election coming up. I don’t think he wants to interfere with that, but we’ll have to see. … I think he’d like to see something happen.”
“The relationship is very good, but there is some hostility, there’s no question about it,” he said.
Those comments followed comments by North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, who said on Dec. 7 that denuclearization is now off the negotiating table with the United States, and lengthy talks with Washington aren’t needed.
KCNA described the latest test as one of “great significance,” but didn’t outline what specifically was tested.
“The results of the recent important test will have an important effect on changing the strategic position of the DPRK once again in the near future,” KCNA reported.
South Korea’s defense ministry said South Korea and the United States are cooperating closely in monitoring activities at major North Korean sites, including Tongchang-ri, the area where Sohae is located.
Missile experts said it appears likely the North Koreans conducted a static test of a rocket engine, rather than a missile launch, which is usually quickly detected by neighboring South Korea and Japan.
“If it is indeed a static engine test for a new solid or liquid fuel missile, it is yet another loud signal that the door for diplomacy is quickly slamming, if it isn’t already,” Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Reuters.
Last month, the United States and South Korea said they would postpone joint military drills in a bid to bolster peace efforts with North Korea, while also assuring that military readiness would remain at high levels.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Nov. 17 that the decision wasn’t a concession to Pyongyang, but part of a “good faith effort” to reignite peace talks that have been stalled in recent months.
Building a “stable peace regime” is a key pillar of the Singapore summit joint declaration that Trump and Kim signed in June 2018, according to Alex Wong, an North Korean official who serves as both deputy assistant secretary and deputy special representative, on Nov. 5, during a Washington forum. He said it was an integral part of the president’s vision for “a bright future for the DPRK.”
Reuters contributed to this report