US Secretary of State Blinken says North Korea may be seeking attention with missile launches

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) speaking with military officials during what Pyongyang media said was a hypersonic missile test, on Jan 11, 2022. PHOTO: AFP/KCNA

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (AFP, REUTERS) - United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday (Jan 13) that North Korea may be seeking attention with its missile launches, which he said were destabilising.

The top US diplomat renewed calls for North Korea to sit down for talks with the US, which he said harboured no hostile intent towards Mr Kim Jong Un's regime.

"I think some of this is North Korea trying to get attention. It's done that in the past; it'll probably continue to do that," Mr Blinken said in a televised interview with MSNBC.

Mr Blinken said the US is willing to engage in talks with North Korea without preconditions.

"Unfortunately, not only has there been no response to those overtures, but the response we've seen…has been renewed missile tests, something that is profoundly destabilising. It's dangerous and it contravenes a whole host of UN Security Council resolutions," Mr Blinken said.

North Korean state media reported on Wednesday that Mr Kim personally oversaw a successful launch of a hypersonic missile, the second such launch by the nuclear-armed nation in less than a week.

Washington then announced sanctions on five North Koreans linked to the ballistic missile programme.

It also wants the United Nations Security Council to impose more sanctions on Pyongyang, the US ambassador to the UN, Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on Wednesday.

The moves prompted accusations from a foreign ministry spokesman in Pyongyang that it was intentionally escalating the situation.

If "the US adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it", the spokesman said in comments carried by state news agency KCNA early Friday in North Korea, using the official name of Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korea also defended its missile tests as its legitimate right to self-defence.

North Korea’s recent development of a “new-type weapon” was just part of its efforts to modernise its national defence capability, and did not target any specific country or harm the security of neighbouring countries, the spokesman said in a statement.

“The US accusation of the DPRK’s legitimate exercise of the right to self-defence is an evident provocation and a gangster-like logic,” the statement said.

North Korea analyst Jean Lee with the Washington-based Wilson Centre said North Korea called this the “anti-American season”.

“Pyongyang raises tensions with an illicit test; when Washington responds with sanctions, North Korea rallies the people around a manufactured threat,” she said in a post on Twitter. “That gives the regime justification to pour resources into its nuclear programme.”

Diplomacy has been at a standstill since Mr Kim held three meetings with former president Donald Trump, who took an unusually personal approach to the diplomacy.

Mr Trump's talks did not produce a lasting agreement and North Korea has not shown interest in offers of lower-level engagement by President Joe Biden's administration.

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