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US’ Pompeo downplays ICBM risk

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a news conference minimises the risks from North Korea. POOL/AFP

US’ Pompeo downplays ICBM risk

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday played down North Korea’s parading of a massive new long-range missile, saying that agreements reached by President Donald Trump had succeeded in reducing risks.

At a military parade on Saturday in Pyongyang, leader Kim Jong-un viewed an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that analysts say is the largest road-mobile, liquid-fuelled missile anywhere in the world.

But Pompeo, who arranged Trump’s landmark summit with Kim in 2018, said that only testing can make sure that a missile is functional.

Pompeo told reporters: “The North Koreans, however, last year did exactly zero intercontinental ballistic missile tests. The same held true for the year before that.

“So the agreement, the understandings, albeit not achieving our ultimate objective in North Korea, has certainly led to reduced risks for the United States versus where we would have been had we continued on the path that the previous administration had engaged in.”

At the Pentagon, defence secretary Mark Esper received his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook and said that the allies both still sought the “final, fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea”.

Esper said: “We agree that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes remain a serious threat to the security and stability of the region and the world.”

North Korea has not carried out nuclear or long-range missile tests since Kim signed a joint declaration with Trump at the June 2018 summit in Singapore.

Trump, who is seeking another term in November 3 elections, has frequently boasted that he has prevented all-out war after soaring tensions and North Korean rocket and nuclear tests.

Yet despite Trump’s statement that he and Kim “fell in love”, diplomacy has been at a standstill for a year with no sign of a lasting deal that would permanently end North Korea’s nuclear programme.

In his New Year’s address, Kim warned that North Korea is no longer bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests, although he has not followed through on the threats.

Analysts say that the missile unveiled on Saturday was likely to be designed to carry multiple warheads in independent re-entry vehicles.

If operational, such a system could overwhelm US missile defences, according to analysts.

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