North Korean weapon test is short in range, long in message
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
Kim Jong Un’s test of what analysts said could be a new short-range guided or cruise missile shows the North Korean leader reverting to saber rattling as he seeks to end sanctions that are derailing his hopes of rejuvenating the North’s economy.
Embarrassed at home by the failure to reach a peace deal with President Donald Trump during their recent summit meeting in Vietnam, he is struggling to regain leverage over the United States without provoking the president, analysts said on Thursday.
This week, Kim escalated pressure on Trump by resuming his visits to military units and weapons sites, which he has generally refrained from during his diplomatic engagements with the American leader.
In a further sign of its exasperation in dealing with the United States, North Korea said Thursday that while Kim’s relations with Trump remained good, negotiations could not continue unless Washington removed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from its team. It blamed his “meddling” for the breakdown of the Vietnam meeting.
“Even if talks are resumed with the United States, I hope that we can have as an interlocutor not Pompeo but someone else who is better in communication and more mature,” Kwon Jong Gun, a North Korean Foreign Ministry official in charge of U.S. affairs, told the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
Since the Vietnam meeting, Kim has voiced misgivings about dealing with Trump or with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, whose efforts to mediate between Kim and Trump have faltered. In a rare policy speech last week, Kim told his people not to expect sanctions relief anytime soon and to brace themselves for a “protracted” struggle against the United States. But he also said he would consider meeting Trump again if Washington offered a new deal that he could accept by the end of the year.
Kim’s visit Tuesday to a military airfield put a spotlight on an air force that has been hit hard by sanctions, with its warplanes grounded by shortages of fuel. In what analysts called a show of defiance against sanctions, the North Korean news media released photos of fighter jets roaring off while Kim watched.
But it was Kim’s attendance at the testing of “a new-type tactical guided weapon,” announced Thursday, that was the clearest signal to Washington that the North’s tactics are hardening.
American, South Korean and Japanese officials declined to comment on what type of weapon North Korea tested, saying that they were still analyzing available data. The projectile covered a short range, flying so low that it was not caught by the radar of the U.S. military’s Northern Command, which routinely tracks North Korean missiles, said the South Korean news agency Yonhap, quoting unnamed defense sources.
The weapon was most likely a short-range guided missile, like the Israelimade Spike missile, which flies low and usually covers only a very short distance, said Shin Jong-woo, a weapons expert at Korea Defense Forum, a Seoul-based network of military analysts.
A handout photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency purportedly shows Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, at a military airfield on Tuesday.