North Korea to advance nuclear weapons program in 2017, defector says


North Korea sees next year as the ideal time to advance its nuclear weapons program, says a senior official who defected from the country over the summer.

Leader Kim Jong Un 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, who previously served as a deputy North Korean ambassador in London, was quoted by South Korean media as saying Tuesday.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedlycalled on China to do more to halt the North's progress, but Thae said Kim was confident that China would not react too severely because it prefers the status quo to a pro-U.S. unified Korea on China's border. President Barack Obama reportedly warned Trump's team in November that, in the White House's assessment, North Korea is the most severe national security threat for the coming administration.

Thae says Kim will seek to exploit not only the American transition in power but the possible ouster of South Korea's president as well.

"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," Thae said, adding that Western economic incentives were unlikely to sway Kim.

"As long as Kim Jong Un is (in power), North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons," Thae was quoted as saying. "The north will not give them up even if the country is offered $1 trillion or $10 trillion in return."

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

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