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North Korea Tests ‘Multiple Rocket Launchers and Tactical Guided Weapons’

Kim Jong Un personally “gave an order of firing” of the projectiles into the sea off North Korea’s east coast, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Kumyagang Power Station No. 2 in North Korea in this May 4, 2019, photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency. VOA

North Korea tested “multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons,” state media confirmed Saturday, the first comments on a launch that has further raised military tensions.

Kim Jong Un personally “gave an order of firing” of the projectiles into the sea off North Korea’s east coast, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

Pictures posted in North Korean state media show Kim peering through binoculars during the launch, then smiling as he points at a screen apparently showing an island target being destroyed.

Analysts say one of the weapons fired appears to be a newly developed short-range ballistic missile. If confirmed, it would be the first North Korean missile test in a year and a half.

“The purpose of the drill was to estimate and inspect the operating ability and the accuracy of striking duty performance of large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons,” KCNA reported.

The test is North Korea’s latest attempt to gradually increase pressure on and signal its frustration with the United States and South Korea, since the breakdown of nuclear talks.

Pyongyang’s statement did not contain any explicit threats or even mentions of the United States or South Korea. Seoul on Friday condemned the launch as needlessly provocative and a violation of an inter-Korean military agreement.

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North Korean military conducts a “strike drill” for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea, in this May 4, 2019, photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). VOA

Missile or projectile?

There had been confusion about the exact type of weapons North Korea launched. South Korea’s defense ministry initially characterized the launch as a “short-range missile” test. Later statements referred to the weapons as “projectiles.”

“That’s no projectile,” Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said in a tweet. “That’s the new SRBM (short-range ballistic missile) that North Korea paraded in February.”

At least externally, the missile appears similar to the Iskandar, a short-range, ballistic missile developed by Russia, analysts say.

Under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea is banned from conducting ballistic missile launches. Seoul says the weapons traveled from 70-200 kilometers, which would be classified as a short-range test.

North Korea has not carried out a missile test since November 2017. The self-imposed moratorium has helped facilitate nuclear talks with U.S. President Donald Trump.

In Kim’s view, the moratorium, which was never formalized, does not cover short-range tests. But by launching multiple short-range projectiles, Kim may be attempting to test the limits of how Washington interprets that moratorium.

Last month, North Korea said it tested a “tactical guided weapon.” Commercial satellite images have also detected increased activity at some North Korean nuclear and satellite launch facilities in recent weeks.

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A man watches a television screen showing a news report on North Korea firing several short-range projectiles from its east coast, on a street in Tokyo, May 4, 2019. VOA

Trump: Deal still possible

So far, Trump has played down the provocations. But he has also not signaled a change in his negotiating stance. Reacting to the latest test, Trump said he still believes a nuclear deal with North Korea is possible.

Kim, who wants the removal of international sanctions hurting his economy, has said he will give the United States until the end of the year to become more flexible in the nuclear talks. Trump says he will not relax sanctions until Kim agrees to completely abandon his nuclear program. 

Deadlocked talks

Trump and Kim have held two summits over the past year. At the first meeting, in Singapore, both men agreed to work “toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But U.S. officials later acknowledged the two sides never agreed on what that means.

At the second meeting in Vietnam, Trump rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle a part of North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for major sanctions relief. Since that meeting, the two sides have struggled to even hold talks, U.S. officials say.

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FILE – U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrives at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, Feb. 3, 2019. VOA

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, will visit South Korea and Seoul later this week to help advance the talks.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose liberal government has prioritized engagement with the North, says he is willing to hold a fourth summit with Kim anytime, anywhere.

Last week, Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said he is willing to meet with Kim “unconditionally and talk with him frankly with an open mind.” (VOA)

Next Story

Trump Defends Kim, Downplays Concern About North Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump and his national security adviser are publicly at odds about the seriousness of the threat

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump upon his arrival at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba prefecture, Japan, May 26, 2019. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump and his national security adviser are publicly at odds about the seriousness of the threat currently posed by North Korea.

In a Sunday morning tweet from Tokyo, Trump issued a retort to John Bolton who the previous day here had told reporters that there was “no doubt” North Korea’s recent test firing of short-range ballistic missiles violated a United Nations resolution.

Bolton’s remark was the first by a U.S. official describing the North Korean launches as a violation of U.N. resolutions.

“North Korea fired off some small weapons which disturbed some of my people and others, but not me,” said Trump in his tweet.

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U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un meet during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, Feb. 28, 2019. VOA

But some analysts say the missile launches are indeed a concern.

“It’s pretty clear the missile launch was a violation of U.N. sanctions, whatever the range. The reality is that U.S. forces and civilians in South Korea and Japan are already in range of North Koreans missiles, so accepting shorter or mid-range missiles puts the United States at risk, not to mention our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea,” Kevin Maher, a Washington security consultant and a former head of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, told VOA. “These realities are inconvenient if the objective is to show a personal relationship with the dictator Kim Jong Un will stop North Korea’s continuing nuclear and missile programs.”

The U.S. president also expressed confidence the North Korean leader “will keep his promise to me” in moving toward denuclearization.

In the tweet, Trump also said he smiled when Kim called former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden “a low IQ individual.”

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The initial presidential tweet misspelled the Democratic Party presidential contender’s name as “Bidan” and was later replaced. And it was not Kim who made the disparaging remark about Biden, rather an unsigned commentary carried by North Korea’s central news agency, which referred to the American politician as a “fool of low IQ” and an “imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being.”

Trump concluded his tweet by stating that perhaps Kim was trying “to send me a signal” — apparently a reference that the leader in Pyongyang prefers to negotiate with the current American president over the opposition party’s top-polling contender.

Trump and Kim have held two summits, in Singapore and Hanoi. Neither has led to any significant breakthroughs, although the meetings were seen as reducing tensions between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and whose leaders had never met before.

The United States and North Korea were belligerents in a three-year war in the early 1950s that devastated the Korean Peninsula. It ended with an armistice, but no peace treaty has ever been signed.

Bolton comment

Bolton, who 13 months ago replaced retired Army General H.R. McMaster as the president’s national security adviser, is known as a hardliner who distrusts Pyongyang’s intentions.

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U.S. President Donald Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe play golf at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba prefecture, Japan May 26, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. VOA

North Korea has a long track record of violating international agreements and has repeatedly defied U.N. sanctions against its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Trump fired off his tweet shortly before taking a helicopter from Tokyo to the Mobara Country Club in nearby Chiba prefecture.

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Japanese Prime Minister Abe, dressed in a blue blazer and white pants, rolled up in a golf cart to meet Trump, who was wearing a red jacket and carrying a red hat in his hand.

After some hours on the golf course, the two leaders viewed bouts of sumo before the U.S. president awarded the large and heavy President’s Cup (quickly nicknamed the Trump Cup’) to champion Asanoyama, a 177-kilogram (390-pound) wrestler who clinched the Summer Grand Tournament the previous day.

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U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to present the President’s Cup to wrestler Asanoyama, the winner of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokigikan Sumo Hall in Tokyo, May 26, 2019.U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to present the President’s Cup to wrestler Asanoyama, the winner of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokigikan Sumo Hall in Tokyo, May 26, 2019. VOA

“That was an incredible evening at sumo,” Trump told reporters as he and first lady Melania Trump joined Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe for dinner at a Tokyo restaurant where the food is served on long paddles. Trump said he personally “bought that beautiful trophy, which you’ll have hopefully for many hundreds of years.”

Trump on Monday meets Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, who hosts a state dinner for the visiting president that evening. In between, Trump holds a formal meeting with Abe in which they are expected to discuss trade and defense matters.

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No quick breakthrough on trade is expected, although both leaders have expressed a desire for a bilateral trade pact after Trump pulled the United States out of the comprehensive 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership, which Tokyo had spearheaded with Washington under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

Following the golf outing, Trump tweeted that no trade deal would be made until after July’s elections for some of the seats in the upper house of Japan’s Diet (parliament).

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U.S. President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, receives a plate of food from a chef as they and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe have dinner in Tokyo, May 26, 2019. VOA

Later at dinner, the president said, “the prime minister and I talked a lot today about trade and military and various others things. I think we had a very productive day.”

Before Trump departs Japan on Tuesday, he is to visit the naval base at Yokosuka to tour a Japanese helicopter carrier and address American service personnel in conjunction with the U.S. Memorial Day holiday (observed Monday). (VOA)