Seoul (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry warned North Korea Monday of possible fresh sanctions as he slammed Kim Jong-Un’s “egregious” leadership with its reliance on reckless provocation and “grotesque” executions.
Speaking in the South Korean capital Seoul, Kerry said the recent test of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) showed that North Korea had no genuine interest in engaging with the international community.
“Instead, it continues to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, it continues to break promises and make threats, and it continues to show flagrant disregard for international laws,” he told a joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byong-Se.
“That is why it is important for us to ramp up international pressure for North Korea to change its behaviour,” he added, adding that the US and China were discussing methods for “boosting sanctions and other things”.
The impoverished but nuclear-armed state is already heavily sanctioned following a series of nuclear and missile tests staged in violation of UN resolutions.
Just over a week ago the North said it had successfully test-fired an SLBM, defying a UN ban on its use or testing of ballistic missile technology.
A fully-developed SLBM capability would take the North Korean nuclear threat to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and the potential to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack.
– Disregard for human rights –
In a scathing attack on Kim Jong-Un, Kerry said his leadership was one of the most “egregious displays… anywhere on the planet” of reckless disregard for human rights.
He specifically cited “stories of grotesque, grisly, horrendous public displays of executions” carried out on a personal whim by Kim — often against those closest to him.
South Korea’s intelligence agency reported last week that North Korea’s defence minister, Hyon Yong-Chol, had been purged and most likely executed for insubordination and dozing off during a formal military rally.
The agency said it had unverified reports that the execution had been carried out at close range with a high-calibre anti-aircraft gun.
A previous agency report said Kim had ordered the execution of 15 other senior officials so far this year.
Kerry said it was “absolutely critical” for the international community to keep shedding light on human rights violations, after a UN report last year detailed widespread abuses and recommended Pyongyang be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“If their horrific conduct continues, it’s hard to see how that referral to the criminal court would not take place,” Kerry said.
– Alliance ‘stronger than ever’ –
Kerry, who held talks earlier in the morning with President Park Geun-Hye, insisted that the US-South Korea military alliance was “stronger than ever” in the face of the North’s belligerence.
South Korea hosts a permanent deployment of almost 30,000 US troops and holds annual joint exercises that rehearse numerous conflict scenarios with the North.
A recent report by US researchers warned that North Korea appeared poised to expand its nuclear programme over the next five years and, in a worst-case scenario, could possess 100 atomic weapons by 2020.
It carried out nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
– Cyber-attacks –
Later Monday, in a foreign policy speech on the use of cyber-space, Kerry again pilloried North Korea for its “provocative, destabilising and repressive actions”, including last year’s cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.
Pyongyang denied US allegations that it had orchestrated that attack in revenge for Sony’s satire “The Interview” about a fictional plot to assassinate Kim Jong-Un.
Those responsible for destructive cyber-attacks “will be held accountable”, said Kerry, adding that North Korea represented the polar opposite of the Internet access championed by South Korea and Japan.
North Korea has a domestic Intranet, allowing its very limited number of users to exchange state-approved information and little more.
Access to the full-blown Internet is for the super-elite only, meaning a few hundred people or maybe 1,000 at most.
“It is no coincidence that many governments that have poor records on Internet freedom also have questions on their commitment to human rights in general,” Kerry said.