North Korea's provocative behavior dropped significantly last year, a senior U.S. official claimed Tuesday, arguing that the United States is making progress toward its goals in dealing with the communist nation.
In a background briefing with reporters, the State Department official said 2019 was a "good year" because of the "significant reduction" of North Korean "activity, missiles, tests, and all the rest of that stuff."
"I believe this will continue," he said without elaborating. "We saw that the threats that were supposed to come to pass in December did not, and I think that's because the U.S. has taken a solid stand and demonstrated strength and insistence that the agreements be adhered to."
North Korea had threatened to send an unwanted "Christmas gift" to the U.S. in protest of their stalled denuclearization talks.
While Christmas passed without a "gift," North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned in a New Year's Day message that the world will soon see a "new strategic weapon."
Many experts believe the weapon could be an intercontinental ballistic missile or a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
The officials said he believes "last year points to a continued insistence that North Korea live up to its commitments."
U.S. officials have often emphasized that Kim committed to dismantle the regime's nuclear weapons program during his first summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018.
But the details have yet to be worked out amid an impasse in negotiations over how to match the North's denuclearization steps with U.S. sanctions relief and security guarantees.
Pressed on how 2019 was a positive year when North Korea conducted more than a dozen short-range missile tests and only one round of working-level negotiations was held following the collapse of the second Trump-Kim summit in February, the official responded, "Because it wasn't negative."
"Maybe you want to call it neutral, but again, having seen the worst of it -- 2010 was a good example -- I guess we're not -- and I don't want to speak too much more on this, but I think in general the absence of severely provocative activity to me says we're accomplishing our goals," he added.
On the possibility of North Korea staging a weapons test to mark Kim's birthday Wednesday, the official demurred.
"I don't know. A lot of his demonstrations to date though, if you've watched, have been horseback riding near Paektusan and things like that," he said. "These are messages of resolve to his own people, who don't have access to outside information. So it doesn't have to be something so provocative. It can be something aimed domestically." (yonhap)