N. Korea leader seeks to complete nuclear program by 2017
Posted : 2016-12-27 22:00
Updated : 2016-12-27 22:15
By Yi Whan-woo
Thae Yong-ho, the former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, raises his hands after speaking at a press conference at the government complex in downtown Seoul, Tuesday. He defected to the South in August. / Joint press corps
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is seeking to complete his country's nuclear program by the end of next year, Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, said Tuesday.
Thae, one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials to defect to South Korea, said Pyongyang is taking South Korea's presidential election and the political transition of the United States with the incoming Donald Trump administration into account in setting its nuclear timetable.
"Kim is racing ahead with a nuclear program at all costs by the end of 2017," Thae said during a press conference at the government complex in downtown Seoul. "He believes Seoul and Washington will not be able to stop Pyongyang's aggressive and provocative military actions because of their political timetables."
He also said North Korea will never give up arming itself with a nuclear arsenal as long as Kim remains in power.
"Pyongyang will not give them up even if the country is offered $1 trillion or $10 trillion in return," Thae said. "It's not a matter of incentives."
He assessed that North Korea is sticking to a cycle of military provocations because it knows that China, its largest benefactor, will not push Kim Jong-un too hard because of its national interest.
"China does not want a wave of democracy flowing across its borders, and it is also wary of the closer presence of U.S. military forces if the two Koreas are unified," he said.
This was the first time for Thae to hold a press conference since his defection while serving in London. He brought his wife and two sons with him.
Thae has been integrating into South Korean society since Dec. 23 after being under government protection.
He said he wants to make his activities public despite concerns over possible threats and attempts on his life by Pyongyang.
"It would be an honor if I could sacrifice myself for the unification of the two Koreas," he said.
During a private meeting with lawmakers in Seoul, Dec. 19, Thae was quoted as saying that he decided to defect because of his disgust with the Kim regime after recognizing the "abysmal reality" of enslaved North Koreans under his tyranny.
Thae, who spent decades in the West, including in Denmark and Sweden, said he learned about the democratization of South Korea and its economic development by watching the country's soap operas and films.