Even as North Korea Saturday fired a ballistic missile from a submarine off its north-east coast, its foreign minister Ri Su-yong offered to halt nuclear tests if the United States suspends military exercises with South Korea.
In a rare interview with the Associated Press while on a visit to New York for U.N. meetings, Ri said his country was compelled to develop nuclear weapons to cope with what it calls U.S. nuclear threats and hostile policy toward Pyongyang.
“Stop the nuclear war exercises in the Korean Peninsula, then we should also cease our nuclear tests,” Ri said.
Ri said “new opportunities” could come for the two countries if the exercises are suspended, but otherwise, the situation will “lead to very catastrophic results, not only for the two countries but for the whole entire world as well.”
Ri said sanctions against the North won’t work.
“If they believe they can actually frustrate us with sanctions, they are totally mistaken,” he was quoted as saying.
Ri said that it’s good to see Cuba and Iran to have improved relations with the U.S., but such cases are totally different from relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
Saturday’s missile launch took place near the North Korean coastal town of Sinpo, where analysts have previously detected efforts by the North to develop submarine-launched ballistic missile systems.
North Korea in recent weeks has fired a slew of missiles and artillery shells into the sea in an apparent protest against ongoing annual military drills between the U.S. and South Korea.
Some analysts think North Korea’s belligerent stance is linked to a major ruling party congress next month meant to further cement leader Kim Jong Un’s grip on power. They say the North could be making efforts to promote military accomplishments to its people to make up for a lack of tangible economic achievements ahead of the Workers’ Party congress, the first since 1980.
North Korea has been seen in recent years as developing technologies for launching ballistic missiles from underwater. Security experts say that acquiring the ability to fire missiles from submarines would be an alarming development for the North because missiles fired from submerged vessels are harder to detect before launch than land-based ones.
While South Korean experts say it’s unlikely that North Korea currently possesses a submarine large enough to carry and fire multiple missiles, they acknowledge that the North is making progress on a dangerous weapons technology.