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(LEAD) Kim Jong-un seeks to complete nuke development by 2017: N.K. diplomat

2016/12/27 19:50

(ATTN: ADDS more comments in last 3 paras)

By Park Boram

SEOUL, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is determined to complete development of nuclear weapons by the end of 2017 and has no plans to give up the country's nukes even if he is offered huge sums of money, a high-profile North Korean diplomat who recently defected to South Korea said Tuesday.

Kim is "racing ahead with nuclear development after setting up a plan to develop it (nuclear weapons) at all costs by the end of 2017," Thae Yong-ho, formerly No. 2 at the North Korean Embassy in London, said in a press briefing. It was his first media appearance since he escaped his post in London in July to take refuge in South Korea with his wife and two sons.

"As long as Kim Jong-un is (in power), North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons ... the North will not give them up even if the country is offered $1 trillion or $10 trillion in return," Thae said at the press briefing. "It's not a matter of (economic) incentives."

For North Korea, the year 2017 is "an opportune time" when South Korea and the United States will have new presidents, he said. "Due to domestic political procedures, North Korea calculates that South Korea and the U.S. will not be able to take physical or military actions to deter North Korea's nuclear development."

   In the meantime, Pyongyang will try to open dialogue with Seoul and Washington's new administrations as a nuclear-possessing state, Thae said of the North's strategy to secure nuclear power status.

Until then, North Korea will continue to launch military provocations and conduct nuclear tests in a bid to frustrate Seoul and Washington's sanctions-concentrated policy towards Pyongyang, Thae said. "North Korea believes that relentless provocations must shift new (South Korean and U.S.) governments' policy lines into more stability-focused ones."

North Korea has recently stipulated a dual nuclear-economic development policy to be part of the ruling party's official platform, but in reality the decision puts nuclear development at the top priority, he said. "Following the ruling party congress in May, Kim Jong-un made it a party policy to finish nuclear development within the earliest time frame possible."

   Educated overseas and having spent decades at foreign posts, the 55-year-old Thae become one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials yet to defect to the South. He plans to join a South Korean national security think tank starting next year as a researcher. His duties reportedly include meetings with other North Korean defectors in South Korea and public lectures on his experiences.

"I made a vow to dismantle the Kim Jong-un regime and save our people from an approaching nuclear disaster," he said, recalling his motive for defection.

"As soon as I came to South Korea, I decided to be active in public appearances," he said. "My heart aches when I think of my family members and colleagues who remain in North Korea. But regretting and crying will bring me nowhere. Fighting the Kim regime will facilitate unification of the Koreas."

  

Thae said the Kim regime is particularly intimidated by international accusations of human rights violations in North Korea. "I was unfazed when talking about North Korea's nuclear issues as a diplomat because many countries were interested in knowing how North Korea had gone its way and wanted to emulate it."

   But on the human rights front, no country has taken sides with North Korea, he pointed out. "Kim Jong-un is making every effort to prevent his name from being stated (in a United Nations General Assembly resolution) for referral to the International Criminal Court."

   As for China, the country is fully capable of eliminating North Korea, but "it has no other option but following what North Korea says because China wants to keep the buffer zone (North Korea geopolitically provides)," he said. "North Korea knows that weak point of China and is well aware that no matter how badly it acts, there is little China can do."

   pbr@yna.co.kr

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