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Jun 16th, 2009

August 12, 2017 Update

For the latest North Korea threat assessment, refer to North Korea Threat Assessment: Psychological Profile of Kim Jong-un.

Obama: Nuclear North Korea Poses ‘Grave Threat’

President meets with South Korea’s Myung-bak, supports U.N. resolution

Image: Obama, Myung-bak
President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak participate in a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 16, 2009. (Photo credit: Mandel Ngan / AFP — Getty Images)

June 16, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Tuesday that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions pose a “grave threat” to the world, and he vowed to end a cycle of allowing Pyongyang to create crises and then be rewarded with incentives to back down.

“This is a pattern they’ve come to expect,” Obama said. “We are going to break that pattern.”

Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, speaking to reporters in the White House Rose Garden, sought to portray a unified stance in dealing with North Korea’s recent missile and nuclear tests and its threats of nuclear war in retaliation to sanctions from the United Nations.

Obama said the leaders agreed that the new U.N. resolution seeking to halt North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles must be fully enforced. The U.N. did not authorize military force to enforce the measures.

Lee said he and Obama agreed that “under no circumstance are we going to allow North Korea to possess nuclear weapons.” The communist-led North already has tested two underground nuclear devices and is believed by U.S. intelligence to possess enough material to make several nuclear bombs.

U.S. officials have said the North Koreans appear to be making preparations for a third nuclear test. North Korea also has said it would regard efforts to enforce U.N. sanctions as an act of war.

Threat of attack?

Asked by a reporter whether he believes his country is under threat of attack from the North, Lee said, “They will think twice about taking any measures that they will regret. North Korea may wish to do so, but of course they will not be able to” because of the strong U.S.-South Korean alliance.

Obama: Threats won’t yield security (MSNBC, June 16, 2009) — President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak hold a news conference in the Rose Garden. (25:52)

Obama said that North Korea’s record of threatening other countries and spreading nuclear technology around the world means it should not be recognized as a legitimate nuclear power. North Korea has bargained with other countries for more than a decade about giving up its nuclear program, gaining such concessions as energy and economic aid, and then backing away from its commitments.

“We will pursue denuclearization on the Korean peninsula vigorously,” Obama said. “So we have not come to a conclusion that North Korea will or should be a nuclear power. Given their past behavior, given the belligerent manner in which they are constantly threatening their neighbors, I don’t think there’s any question that that would be a destabilizing situation that would be a profound threat, not only to United States’ security but to world security.” …

Missiles in three years

On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Pentagon officials told a Senate committee that North Korea could build missiles that could hit the United States in as few as three years if the North continued progress on its weapons system.

Lee said that his country, along with the United States, Japan, China and Russia, will discuss new measures designed to compel the North to “irrevocably dismantle all of their nuclear weapons programs.” North Korea earlier this year announced that it would no longer hold talks with those five nations.

Last week, the youngest son — and reportedly heir apparent — of North Korea’s ailing leader Kim Jong Il secretly visited China and was urged by President Hu Jintao to have the North halt additional nuclear tests, a top Japanese newspaper said Tuesday. …


6/17/2009 Update

North Korea Warns of ‘Thousand-Fold’ Retaliation

Image: Protest against
South Korean conservative activists hold up their cards during a rally on Wednesday denouncing former President Kim Dae-jung’s policy of engagement toward North Korea. (Photo credit: Ahn Young-joon / AP)

June 17, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea warned Wednesday of a “thousand-fold” military retaliation against the United States and its allies if provoked, the latest threat in a drumbeat of rhetoric in defense of its rogue nuclear program.

Japanese and South Korean news reports said North Korea is preparing an additional site for test-firing a long-range missile capable of striking the United States.

The warning of a military strike, carried by the North’s state media, came hours after President Barack Obama declared North Korea a “grave threat” to the world, and pledged that recent U.N. sanctions on the communist regime will be aggressively enforced.

Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met in Washington Tuesday for a landmark summit in which the two leaders agreed to build a regional and global “strategic alliance” to persuade North Korea to dismantle all its nuclear weapons.

Harsh rhetoric

Pyongyang claims its nuclear bombs are a deterrence against the United States and accuses Washington of plotting with Seoul to topple its regime — led by the dictator Kim Jong Il who is reportedly preparing to hand over power to his 26-year-old youngest son.

“If the U.S. and its followers infringe upon our republic’s sovereignty even a bit, our military and people will launch a one hundred- or one thousand-fold retaliation with merciless military strike,” the government-run Minju Joson newspaper said in a commentary.

The commentary, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, also called Obama “a hypocrite” for advocating a nuclear-free world while making “frantic efforts” to develop new nuclear weapons at home.

“The nuclear program is not the monopoly of the U.S.,” it said without mentioning the Obama-Lee summit.

Attention has been focused on North Korea since it conducted a nuclear test, its second, on May 25 in defiance of the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council responded by toughening an arms embargo, authorizing ship searches for nuclear and ballistic missile cargo and depriving the regime of the financing used to build its nuclear program. …

Preparations for missile launch?

Japan’s Sankei newspaper said Wednesday that the North has been showing signs of preparing two sites — the Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast and the Musudan-ni site on the northeastern coast — from where a long-range missile could be launched.

It was earlier thought that any launch would come only from the northwest. …

Negotiations brought to a halt

The recent moves by North Korea have effectively brought to a halt the so-called six-party talks aimed at giving North Korea fuel and other benefits in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program. The talks involved the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.

Obama said the United States is more than willing to negotiate with North Korea to bring peace on the Korean peninsula.

“But belligerent, provocative behavior that threatens neighbors will be met with significant and serious enforcement of sanctions that are in place,” he said. …

Some analysts believe that the North’s rhetoric is aimed at showing people at home that their government can defy the powerful United States, and giving credit for it to Kim’s reported heir apparent, Kim Jong Un. The analysts say this would make Jong Un’s ascent to the top acceptable to the North Koreans.


6/19/2009 Update

U.S. Boosts Hawaii Defense to Counter North Korea

July missile test expected (NBC “Today,” June 19, 2009) — The U.S. is deploying anti-missile defenses around Hawaii amid reports that North Korea may test fire as many as two missiles in the direction of Hawaii next month. NBC’s Savannah Guthrie discusses the White House reaction. (01:07)

June 19, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea – The United States says it has deployed anti-missile defenses around Hawaii, following reports that North Korea is preparing to fire its most advanced ballistic missile in that direction to coincide with the U.S. Independence Day holiday next month.

Last week, the communist regime vowed to bolster its nuclear arsenal and threatened war to protest U.N. sanctions in the wake of its May 25 nuclear test. It conducted its first nuclear test in April, and there are suspicions it is preparing for a third.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that the military has set up additional defenses around Hawaii, consisting of a ground-based mobile missile system and a radar system nearby. Together they could shoot an incoming missile in mid air. …

Gates’ comments come after Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported that North Korea might test fire a Taepodong-2 missile with a range of up to 4,000 miles, sometime around the U.S. holiday of Independence Day on July 4.

Yomiuri said the missile, which could be launched from North Korea’s Tongchang-ri site, would fly over Japan but would not be able to reach Hawaii, which is about 4,500 miles from the Korean peninsula.

North Korea test-fired a similar long-range missile on July 4 three years ago, but it failed seconds after liftoff. …


6/24/2009 Update

U.S. Dismisses Latest Missile Provocation by North Korea

A U.S. official says North Korean leader Kim Jong Il seems to be
A U.S. official says North Korean leader Kim Jong Il seems to be “testing the new administration.” (Photo credit: AFP / Getty Images)

CNN logo
June 24, 2009

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are downplaying any imminent threat to the United States of a North Korean missile strike or confrontation between the two countries at sea.

The U.S. intelligence community does not believe North Korea intends to launch a long-range missile in the near future, a U.S. intelligence official told CNN, despite reports in Japanese media citing intelligence that the North Korean regime intends to fire a missile toward Hawaii on July 4.

Shortly after that report, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was deploying defensive measures around Hawaii.

But a recent warning to mariners issued by North Korea suggests the country only intends short- and medium-range missile tests, according to one U.S. intelligence official. …

The official said that these shorter-range missiles can be “rolled out on a dime,” but the U.S. intelligence community sees no “readily observable” indication of an imminent long-range missile launch. …

The U.S. intelligence official said there is always concern that a shorter-range test “could go wrong,” but for the most part the North Koreans have short and medium missile tests “down pat,” and those missiles are “pretty accurate.” …

The official said the United States “assumes” North Korea will “continue its provocations.” The official acknowledged this phase of the usual ebb and flow of North Korean behavior seems to be lasting longer.

This has been a “protracted period,” said the official, with the change in U.S. leadership being a “big factor.” The North Korean leadership seems to be “testing the new administration.” …

Separately, the United States has not yet decided to seek permission to board and inspect a North Korean vessel [the Kang Nam] it suspects of carrying illicit weapons or technology in violation of U.N. sanctions against that country, despite a recent promise by President Obama that North Korean violations would “be met with significant, serious enforcement of sanctions.”

The United States has been tracking the ship’s progress with air assets including the P-3 spy plane and the USS McCampbell, which recently replaced the USS John McCain in trailing the Korean ship.

The ship is suspected of carrying weapons because it is known to have carried proliferation materials previously, though U.S. officials concede they are not certain of the ship’s holdings.


6/26/2009 Update

100,000 Rally Against U.S. in North Korea

Image: Rally in Pyongyang
In this photo released by Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service in Tokyo, North Koreans gather at a rally Thursday, June 25, 2009 at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea. The crowd shouted slogans to denounce international sanctions against the communist regime. (Photo credit: Korean Central News Agency — Kor)

 June 25, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — Punching their fists into the air and shouting “Let’s crush them!” some 100,000 North Koreans packed Pyongyang’s main square Thursday for an anti-U.S. rally as the communist regime promised a “fire shower of nuclear retaliation” for any American-led attack.

Several demonstrators held up a placard depicting a pair of hands smashing a missile with “U.S.” written on it, according to footage taken by APTN in Pyongyang on the anniversary of the day North Korean troops charged southward, sparking the three-year Korean War in 1950.

North Korean troops will respond to any sanctions or U.S. provocations with “an annihilating blow,” one senior official vowed — a pointed threat as an American destroyer shadowed a North Korean freighter sailing off China’s coast, possibly with banned goods on board.

A new U.N. Security Council resolution passed recently to punish North Korea for conducting an underground nuclear test in May requires U.N. member states to request inspections of ships suspected of carrying arms or nuclear weapons-related material.

In response to the sanctions, the North pulled out of nuclear talks and has ramped up already strident anti-American rhetoric. And the isolated regime may now be moving to openly flout the resolution by dispatching a ship suspected of carrying arms to Myanmar.

Tracking a ship

While it was not clear what was on board the North Korean-flagged Kang Nam 1, officials have mentioned artillery and other conventional weaponry. One intelligence expert suspected missiles.

The U.S. and its allies have made no decision on whether to request inspection of the ship, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday in Washington, but North Korea has said it would consider any interception an act of war.

If permission for inspection is refused, the ship must dock at a port of its choosing so local authorities can check its cargo. Vessels suspected of carrying banned goods must not be offered bunkering services at port, such as fuel, the resolution says. …

North Korea is suspected to have transported banned goods to Myanmar before on the Kang Nam, said Bertil Lintner, a Bangkok-based North Korea expert who has written a book about leader Kim Jong Il. …

“North Korea appears to have exported conventional weapons to Myanmar in exchange for food,” another expert said. …


12/16/2009 Update

Obama Writes Letter to North Korean Leader

December 15, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has written a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as part of an intense effort to draw the reclusive nation back to nuclear disarmament talks, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

The letter was delivered to North Korean officials last week by Obama’s special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, during a visit to Pyongyang aimed at restarting the stalled negotiations, the official said. …

“The North Koreans have a choice: continued and further isolation or benefits for returning to the six-party talks and dismantling their nuclear weapons program,” the official said.

The official was not aware whether Kim had responded to Obama’s missive. Bosworth’s visit did not include a meeting with the North Korean leader.

Contents closely held

The existence of the letter has been closely held, with the administration insisting to its partners in disarmament talks with North Korea that it not be publicly discussed, according to The Washington Post [link added], which first reported Tuesday night that the letter had been delivered.

Bosworth’s talks were the Obama administration’s first high-level contact with North Korea. He said after leaving the North on Thursday that the two sides reached a “common understanding” on the need to restart the nuclear negotiations, which involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, the U.S. and Russia. The six-party talks are aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. …

After returning to Washington from Moscow on Tuesday, Bosworth held closed-door talks with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss his visit to North Korea, his first to the country in his current position.

Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also sent personal letters to Kim, although not as early in their terms as did Obama.

Bush wrote Kim in December 2007, raising the possibility of normalized relations if the North Korean leader fully disclosed his nuclear programs by year’s end. Bush’s letter was seen as a turnabout for a president who had labeled the communist regime part of an “axis of evil,” along with Iran and prewar Iraq.

Clinton wrote to Kim in October 1994, promising to organize financing for a $4 billion nuclear plant to replace equipment suspected of making plutonium for nuclear weapons if the North kept its new agreement to give up the equipment. Then-Ambassador-at-Large Robert Gallucci told reporters the letter was addressed “To The Supreme Leader of the DPRK” — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Post said efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.


12/17/2010 Update

North Korean nukes: big fears, few facts

Longtime NBC News producer Bob Windrem explores what’s known and unknown about North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. This is a companion piece to his article published today on, “Deciphering clues to North Korea’s mysteries,” in which he analyzes possible reasons behind recent North Korean belligerence.


Nuclear expert Dr. Siegfried Hecker recently returned from North Korea and found their nuclear capability ‘stunning.’ He discusses North Korea with NBC’s Richard Lui. (06:26)
Companion story

Deciphering clues to North Korea’s mysteries
(Robert Windrem, Dec. 17, 2010)

Image: Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, left, is shown with his youngest son, Kim Jong Un at the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2010. (Photo credit: Kyodo / Reuters)


Related reports on this site

Kim Jong Un seen in what appears to be a military command center, signing an order to ready his forces to target the U.S. mainland and American bases in East Asia, March 29, 2013. The map against the wall appears to show the West coast of the United States, with the text reading 미본토타격계획 (“U.S. Mainland Strike Plan”).

North Korea Threat Assessment: Psychological Profile of Kim Jong-un (April 8, 2013)

North Korea Steps Up Nuclear Threat Against U.S. (Jan. 27, 2013)

Looming North Korean Nuclear Threat (Jan. 11, 2011)

North Korea ‘Very Dangerous’ (Nov. 22, 2010)

Kim Jong-un Succession in North Korea (Oct. 11, 2010)

Kim Jong-Il Threat Assessment (May 31, 2009)

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