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N. Korea’s talks on new military missions suggest nuclear weapons deployment

Written by Javed Iqbal

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea discussed allocating additional tasks to its frontline army units at a central military meeting, state media said Thursday, suggesting the country might want to deploy nuclear weapons on the battlefield targeting South Korea along rivals’ tense border.

The discussion comes as South Korean officials said North Korea has completed preparations for its first nuclear test in five years as part of its possible efforts to build a warhead to be mounted on short-range weapons capable of hitting targets in South Korea.

During an ongoing meeting of the ruling Labor Central Military Commission on Wednesday, leader Kim Jong Un and other top military officers “discussed the work of further confirming the operations tasks of the front line units of the Korean People’s Army and changing operation plans,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Kim also ordered that steps be taken to “improve the operational capacity of front-line units,” KCNA said. A KCNA photo showed what appeared to be a large map of the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, including border posts near the conference table.

“I can assess the issue of forward-deployment of tactical nuclear weapons was discussed at the meeting in an in-depth manner,” said Cheong Seong-Chang, senior analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute.

Kim Jun-rak, a spokesman for South Korea’s joint chief of staff, told reporters later Thursday that it is closely monitoring related North Korean activities, but does not elaborate.

In April, when North Korea fired a new type of tactical-guided weapon, it said the weapon was “of great importance for drastically improving the firepower of frontline long-range artillery units, increasing the efficiency of operating (North Korea’s) tactical nuclear weapons and diversifying their firepower missions.” . “

Its use of the words “tactical nuclear weapons” suggested that the weapon was probably a short-range weapon system armed with a nuclear warhead. Some experts said at the time that North Korea intended to deploy such weapons that threaten the key facility in South Korea, including U.S. military bases there.

Later in April, Kim said North Korea could use its nuclear weapons preventively if threatened, saying its nuclear weapons “would never be limited to the sole mission of deterrence” in situations where the Nordic region faces external threats against its ” fundamental interests. ” The possibility that North Korea has an escalating nuclear doctrine may pose greater concern for South Korea, Japan and the United States.

Kim convened a meeting of the Central Military Commission earlier this week to reaffirm “crucial and urgent tasks” to expand military capabilities and implement key defense policies, state media said.

Cheong, the analyst, said North Korea is expected to carry out its seventh nuclear test after the meeting, saying its third nuclear test in 2013 also came days after another meeting of the Central Military Commission.

Prior to this week’s meeting, Kim had convened a meeting of the Central Military Commission 16 times since taking power in late 2011, but this is the first to last two days or longer, Cheong said.

Wednesday was the second day’s session, and the KCNA said discussions continued on the agenda, indicating that the meeting would continue on Thursday.

Earlier this year, North Korea test-launched a series of missiles with potential ranges that place both the American mainland and its Asian allies such as South Korea and Japan within striking distances. North Korea has intercontinental ballistic missiles that are potentially capable of reaching the United States, but experts say the country still needs to master re-entry and other technologies to turn them into working weapons.

Some experts say that the Nordic arms launches were intended to modernize its weapons systems and increase its leverage in future negotiations with the United States in order to win sanctions and other concessions.

South Korean and US officials have warned North Korea to take the consequences if it goes ahead with a nuclear test. But the split between permanent members of the UN Security Council blurs the prospect of new criminal international sanctions against North Korea. Russia and China this year vetoed U.S.-sponsored resolutions that would have increased sanctions, insisting Washington focus on reviving dialogue.

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Javed Iqbal

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