North Korea says it successfully tested a submarine-launched missile, while its foreign minister tells AP his country is ready to give up further nuclear tests under conditions. A look at key developments Sunday:
Pyongyang said it successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine — a worrying development because mastering the ability to fire missiles from submerged vessels would make it harder for outsiders to detect what North Korea is doing before it launches, giving it the potential to surprise its enemies.
Hours before the announcement, South Korean military officials said the North fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile from a submarine off its eastern coast. The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectile traveled about 30 kilometers (19 miles) Saturday evening. That’s a much shorter than the typical distance of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which can fly at least 300 kilometers (186 miles).
U.S. Strategic Command, headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, said its “systems detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean submarine missile launch from the Sea of Japan.” It said the missile launch “did not pose a threat to North America.”
NORTH TO STOP NUKE TESTS IF …
In New York, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong told The Associated Press that his country is ready to halt its nuclear tests if the United States suspends its annual military exercises with South Korea.
He also defended the country’s right to maintain a nuclear deterrent and warned that North Korea won’t be cowed by international sanctions. And for those waiting for the North’s regime to collapse, he had this to say: Don’t hold your breath.
Ri held firm to Pyongyang’s longstanding position that the U.S. drove his country to develop nuclear weapons as an act of self-defense. At the same time, he suggested that suspending the military exercises with Seoul could open the door to talks and reduced tensions.
“If we continue on this path of confrontation, this will lead to very catastrophic results, not only for the two countries but for the whole entire world as well,” he said. “It is really crucial for the United States government to withdraw its hostile policy against the DPRK and as an expression of this stop the military exercises, war exercises, in the Korean Peninsula. Then we will respond likewise.” DPRK is an abbreviation for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
HUMAN RIGHTS REPRESENTATIVES CAN VISIT NORTH, BUT AT OWN RISK
North Korea’s foreign minister said international human rights organizations are welcome to inspect conditions in the North — but some might have to travel at their own risk.
“We have our doors open for anybody who is interested to come to the DPRK and see the reality,” Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong told The Associated Press in an interview, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
But Ri said there are risks for those who want to “totally fabricate” the situation in the North. One person that he indicated would definitely not receive a warm welcome is the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman.
Darusman has been very outspoken about human rights abuses in the North and suggested regime change might be the only solution — a position that has made him persona non grata in Pyongyang.
NORTH DEFENDS JAILING AMERICAN
North Korea’s foreign minister defended the jailing of an American university student for alleged anti-state activities, but told The Associated Press that he would inform authorities in Pyongyang there is concern in the U.S. over the student’s fate. He also noted that other detainees have been released before serving their full sentences.
North Korea’s highest court sentenced Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate, to 15 years in prison at hard labor after he confessed he had tried to steal a propaganda banner as a trophy for an acquaintance who wanted to hang it in her church.
Warmbier, of Wyoming, Ohio, had also been charged with trying to gather information that could be used against the North Korean leadership.
The U.S. government condemned the sentence and accused North Korea of using such American detainees as political pawns.
Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong on Saturday countered that the student was being used by Washington “as a tactic to make our lives difficult” by creating internal disturbances.