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Kim Jong-un is displayed on a giant screen during a concert on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army in Pyongyang. Photo: Ng Han Guan / AP

A former high-ranking North Korean diplomat and defector, Thae Yong-ho, said today that "Kim Jong-un is not fully aware of the strength and might of American military power." He was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about Kim's thoughts on ballistic missiles and how best to deal with the regime.

Why it matters: "Because of this misunderstanding Kim Jong-un genuinely believes he can break the sanctions regime apart," once he can convince the U.S. to accept North Korea's nuclear program, Thae said. But he emphasized that military force cannot be the first answer to the security dilemma on the Korean peninsula and said that "it is necessary to reconsider whether we have tried all non-military options…before we decide [a] military [option]…is all that is left."

Kim Jong-un thinks he can maintain regional influence "by being able to credibly threaten the United States with nuclear weapons," per Thae.

Two questions lawmakers are asking:

  1. What should the U.S. be pressing Beijing on with regards to North Korea? The short answer from Thae: Allowing defectors to stay or go to South Korea and not sending North Koreans back to the North.
  2. Would Kim Jong-un accept a freeze of the nuclear program? Thae expressed that there is likely nothing that the U.S. has that North Korea would want enough to stop its nuclear program.

Go deeper

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

7 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.