SEOUL, South Korea — After sending an intercontinental ballistic missile higher than ever before on Wednesday, North Korea said it had mastered nuclear-strike capability and become a full-fledged nuclear state. That claim was immediately met with skepticism.
But by showing that its missiles can reach Washington — even if there is doubt that they can deliver a nuclear warhead there — the North took yet another step toward that goal. So its latest test raised a question the United States and its allies seem likely to have to answer sooner or later: Is it time to accept that North Korea will never give up its nuclear arms, and try to reach a deal to stop its arsenal from growing further?
China and Russia have been pushing for an agreement that would freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear program, in exchange for a suspension of joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. The United States rejects the idea.
The North has repeatedly made clear that it would never give up its nuclear ambitions. But its statement after Wednesday’s launch — saying it had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force” — seemed to suggest that it had attained them. If so, at least in theory, it might be open to stopping there.
That would fit into what many officials and analysts have long believed to be the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s game plan. They say he wants to have his country recognized as a nuclear power so he can then gain concessions, such as the easing of sanctions, in return for a freeze of his nuclear arsenal.