Kim-ageddon: Nuke expansion defied intel projections, Trump pushes buttons in Beijing, Seoul

by WorldTribune Staff, September 4, 2017

The bomb North Korea detonated at its Punggye-ri test site on Sept. 2 was at least five times more powerful than devices previously tested and puts the Kim Jong-Un regime much earlier and significantly higher on the technological ladder than intelligence agencies had assessed.

“North Korea has achieved a capability to wipe out a big chunk of any major city,” Sue Mi Terry, a former senior analyst on North Korea at the CIA and now managing director for Korea at the Bower Group Asia, told The Washington Post in a report published on Sept. 3.

People in Seoul watch a news report on North Korea’s announcement of its first hydrogen bomb test. / AFP / Getty Images

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump moved to stiffen the spine of ally South Korea and increased pressure on China with plans for sanctions on nations doing business with the rogue state.

“South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!,” Trump tweeted on Sept. 3 in a statement that received minimal coverage in South Korea’s liberal media outlets

Trump also tweeted that the U.S. is considering “stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.”

Related: Nuke fallout: Trump knocks Seoul on ‘appeasement’, China to back North if U.S. strikes first, Sept. 3, 2017

The U.S. imports about $40 billion in goods a month from China, North Korea’s main commercial partner.

Later on Sept. 3, as the Seoul government came under increasing political pressure from the crisis, the Moon Jae-In administration ordered the activation of additional U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems. In so doing, Moon reversed his early reluctance to expand the systems which his campaign last year had opposed.

Seoul also ordered South Korea’s army and air force to carry out a joint drill that involved multiple F-15K fighter jets and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. They hit targets off the country’s east coast to simulate a strike on North Korea’s nuclear test site, according to a statement from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In other developments:

  • South Korea said the U.S. was considering the deployment of an aircraft carrier and more bombers to the region.
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Moscow could increase its missile presence in the Pacific in response to the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system.
  • South Korean military officials said there were ongoing signs that Pyongyang was preparing to test another ICBM.
  • President Trump spoke by phone with Moon Jae-In on Sept. 4. According to a statement from South Korea’s presidential office, Moon and Trump agreed to remove the limit on the payload of South Korean missiles in response to the North’s nuclear test.
  • U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said at an emergency session of he UN Security Council on Sept. 4 that Kim Jong-Un was “begging for war” and urged the Security Council to adopt the strongest sanctions measures possible to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
  • At the Sept. 4 UN meeting, Chinese Ambassador to the UN Liu Jieyi cautioned against any military option. “The peninsula issue must be resolved peacefully,” he said. “China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula.”
  • President Moon Jae-in and his Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to hold talks Wednesday, following Moon’s arrival in Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF). “Because of North Korea’s nuclear test, we expect a large part of the Korea-Russia summit to focus on the conditions created by the North’s nuclear test,” Nam Gwan-pyo, a vice chief of the presidential National Security Office, told a press briefing.
  • China and South Korea discussed North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and their countries’ response to it during a phone conversation on Monday, the foreign ministry here said. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi consulted mainly on “the circumstantial assessment of the sixth nuclear test and the direction of their future response,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The North’s Sept. 2 test was carried out hours after Kim Jong-Un had appeared on state-run television with what appeared to be a prototype of a hydrogen bomb.

“There’s little doubt in my mind,” said James M. Acton, a physicist and co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank. “North Korea has been hinting for a while that it was working on an H-bomb – even apart from the photos it released last night – so this should not come as a huge surprise. But it does represent a significant technological advance.”

Analysts said there is little doubt North Korea will eventually have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental United States.

Peter Zimmerman, a nuclear physicist and former chief scientist for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Post that initial calculations based on seismic readings suggested a device with a yield of up to 200 kilotons – 13 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, and probably “too big for a pure fission bomb.”

Zimmerman said the prototype displayed by Kim on the eve of the test “pretty well shows they know the essentials of a thermonuclear device design.”

“This was a major step forward for the [North Korean] scientists and engineers,” Zimmerman said. “Their first test was a dud; the next couple were very low yield. Since then, their yields have steadily gone up. But this is a discontinuity indicating the introduction of new technology.”

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