With Donald Trump getting ready to take office as president, North Korea is talking about launching a newly perfected intercontinental ballistic missile. Officials in Washington are saying that if Pyongyang launches anything that threatens the territory of the U.S. or its allies, it will be shot down.
North Korea has not explicitly said it will conduct an ICBM test in the immediate future, and it is safe to assume U.S. policy has always been to shoot down any missiles that threaten its territory. But the recent barb trading could suggest Pyongyang and Washington are feeling each other out ahead of President-elect Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20.
A successful ICBM launch would be a major step forward for North Korea and a serious concern to Washington and its allies. Kim Jong Un announced in his annual New Year's address that the country had reached the "final stages" of ICBM development. Trump himself responded with a tweet two days later, saying the possibility of the North developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the U.S. "won't happen!"
Upping the ante, the state's KCNA news agency quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Sunday that Pyongyang reserves the right to conduct a test whenever it sees fit.
"The ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere determined by the supreme headquarters of the DPRK," the unnamed spokesman was quoted as saying. DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Also Sunday, on "Meet the Press," U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the North's missile and nuclear weapons development a "serious threat." He said the U.S. military would shoot down any missiles launched by the North that appeared to be headed toward American territory or the territory of any U.S. allies.
Beyond the rhetoric, however, the KCNA report suggested Pyongyang is hoping Trump will take a new approach toward relations.
Throughout his tenure, President Barack Obama followed a policy of "strategic patience," which essentially focused on punitive sanctions while ruling out any significant talks or contacts until North Korea made the first move toward denuclearization. The KCNA report slammed U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken for saying last week that sanctions must be maintained to keep the pressure on Pyongyang.
"Anyone who wants to deal with the DPRK would be well advised to secure a new way of thinking after having a clear understanding of it," KCNA quoted the foreign ministry official as saying.