Advisor of the Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS) Alexander Vorontsov at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference 2017. Sputnik via AFP / Eugene Odinokov
Advisor of the Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS) Alexander Vorontsov at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference 2017. Sputnik via AFP / Eugene Odinokov

A Russian expert quotes North Korean diplomats as saying they’re worried about a growing “misperception” among Americans that their country would launch a nuclear strike on the US as soon as they had the capability.

Alexander Vorontsov, head of the Department for Korean and Mongolian Studies and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russia Academy of Sciences, said in a Wednesday article on 38 North that the regime is aware how “suicidal” such a move would be.

“It would be suicidal to attack the USA first and especially with nuclear weapons. We understand that it would be the last day of our country,” Vorontsov quoted one diplomat he met with in Pyongyang in November as saying.

The North Koreans were reacting to US polls indicating that a majority of Americans now believe the US cannot allow North Korea to acquire a missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the US mainland.

But Vorontsov also noted in his article for the specialist website on North Korean affairs that Pyongyang remains convinced that the Pentagon is preparing for war on the peninsula. Kim Jong-un’s government also seems determined to achieve nuclear parity with the US and doesn’t seem interested in agreeing to a “freeze” on such weapons development as proposed by Moscow and Beijing, the analyst said.

The North’s diplomats also pointed to a sharp gap in perceptions between Americans and South Koreans about the seriousness of the crisis.

“The North Koreans see growing signs, reflecting President Donald Trump’s “America First” principle, that the United States is prepared to accept the terrible loss of lives that would result from a large-scale military conflict with North Korea,” Vorontsov said. “In contrast, South Korean public opinion continues to believe that president Trump would never start a war in Korea—and that the tension, crisis-like atmosphere, and belligerent rhetoric are all posturing.”

Nuclear parity then dialogue?

Vorontsov says the North Koreans he spoke with reiterated that they’re striving to reach some kind of “nuclear parity” with the US. But they emphasized that this was not to deliver an unprovoked first strike against the US mainland.

“When we expressed doubt regarding the North Korean ability to achieve this parity, their rather uncertain explanations led us to believe they, more accurately, have some kind of “specific asymmetrical” nuclear parity in mind,” Vorontsov said. “Finally they told us: ‘We are diplomats, not military guys. Only our leader knows the issue in full.’” They also repeated the point that nuke weapons are being developed to preserve the survival of North Korea.

“It would benefit both sides to establish a US-DPRK dialogue that would allow Pyongyang to clarify its real intentions and reach consensus with the US on a plan to resolve the nuclear issue,” Vorontsov concluded.

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