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Friday, January 6, 2017, 09:48

Nuke, missile tests show the DPRK's 'qualitative' improvement

By Reuters

Nuke, missile tests show the DPRK's 'qualitative' improvement
This undated photo released by the DPRK's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 21, 2016 shows a missile fired during a drill by Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)

WASHINGTON -- The United States said on Thursday the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) had demonstrated a "qualitative" improvement in its nuclear and missile capabilities after an unprecedented level of tests last year , showing the needed to sustain pressure on Pyongyang to bring it back to disarmament negotiations.

Even a so-called failure is progress because ... they apply what they have learned to their technology and to the next test

Antony Blinken, US Deputy Secretary of State

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a joint news conference after a meeting with his Japanese and the Republic of Korea (ROK) counterparts that the DPRK had conducted 24 missile tests in the past year, as well as two nuclear tests, and learned from each one.

"Even a so-called failure is progress because ... they apply what they have learned to their technology and to the next test. And in our assessment, we have a qualitative improvement in their capabilities in the past year as a result of this unprecedented level of activity," he said.

"With every passing day the threat does get more acute," Blinken said, and referred to comments by the DPRK's leader, Kim Jong Un, on Sunday that his country was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) of a kind that could someday hit the United States.

Blinken said it was vital for the United States, Japan, the ROK and other countries to boost cooperation to defend against the threat.

"At the same time, it's absolutely vitally important that we exercise sustained, comprehensive pressure on the DPRK to get it to stop these programs, to come back to the negotiating table, and to engage in good faith on denuclearization," Blinken said, referring to international sanctions.

US President-elect Donald Trump responded on Monday to Kim's comments on an ICBM test by declaring in a tweet that "It won't happen!"

Experts say preventing such a test is far easier said than done, and Trump gave no indication what new steps he might take to roll back the DPRK's weapons programs after he takes office on Jan. 20, something successive US administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have failed to do.

Former US officials and other experts say the United States essentially had two options when it came to trying to curb the DPRKs fast-expanding nuclear and missile programs - negotiate or take military action.

Neither path offers certain success and the military option is fraught with huge dangers, especially for Japan and the ROK, given their close proximity to the DPRK.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama said Tokyo was watching closely to see what kind of Asia policy Trump would follow, but did not expect major changes.

"Will it be exactly the same as we have it now? I doubt it. But basically, I don't see the direction as changing in a significant way," he told the news conference, adding that the US security treaties with Tokyo and Seoul were an important pillar of US policy.

Blinken said an effective sanctions campaign required "determination" and "patience." "I believe that as long as we sustain it and build on it, it will have an effect," he said.

In another tweet on Monday, Trump said the DPRK's neighbor and only ally, China, was not helping to contain Pyongyang - despite Beijing's support for successive rounds of UN sanctions.

Blinken said Washington had seen positive signs from China in recent weeks in implementing new restrictions on coal imports from the DPRK, but added: "That needs to be sustained ... to be carried forward."

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