As North Korea celebrates the 105th birthday of its late founder, Kim Il Sung, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell said he would expect a nuclear test by the nation this weekend.
In an interview with CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy on Friday, North Korea’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Han Song Ryol, accused the Trump administration of wanting to “annihilate” the regime and said they are ready to launch a “pre-emptive strike” if the U.S. threatens to attack their country. He also said their nuclear program was non-negotiable.
So why are the North Koreans escalating their rhetoric against the U.S. at this particular moment?
“One is we have a new president and Kim Jong Un is trying to challenge him, he’s trying to get him back to the negotiating table,” said Morell, a CBS News senior national security contributor. “Remember, Barack Obama ignored the North Koreans for eight years. Did not run to the negotiating table every time there was a provocation. Kim Jong Un wants to get back to a situation where we give them gifts when they do something bad.”
In addition, the Trump administration deployed an aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula this week, which is “making it worse,” Morell said.
“We’re raising the crisis. It’s best to just ignore this guy, and to deter him from ever using these weapons or selling them, and to build our defenses,” Morell added.
Morell stressed that the North’s nuclear capabilities were a current threat.
“They have nuclear weapons. They’ve tested nuclear weapons five times, a number of times successfully. They have short range and medium range ballistic missiles that are capable of reaching their targets. They have deployed an [intercontinental ballistic missile] that’s capable of reaching the continental United States…that they’ve never tested. And we think they’ve had enough time to make a nuclear weapon to a missile,” Morell said. “So the threat is now. It’s not two years from now or five years from now. It is now.”
While China uncharacteristically warned North Korea through a state-run newspaper to not conduct missile tests this weekend or face stronger sanctions, Morell doubted whether it would make much of an impact.
“If you’re going to squeeze North Korea economically, China has to do it because China is 80 percent of their trade. But there’s two issues here: One is China’s willingness to squeeze them. China fears an unstable nuclear-armed North Korea more than they fear a nuclear-armed North Korea. They don’t want to bring about instability. The Chinese keep on making that point,” Morell said. “And the second issue is, even if they did squeeze them, their ability, even if they did squeeze them, would North Korean behavior change? I doubt it.”