North Korea announces first weapon test since summit collapse
Stars and Stripes
North Korea has test-fired a new type of “tactical guided weapon,” it said Thursday, the first military move since the collapse of a nuclear summit between leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.
Kim supervised Wednesday’s test and praised it for having “very weighty significance in increasing the combat power” of the North Korean army, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The announcement came as U.S.-led efforts to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons have stalled after Kim and Trump failed to reach an agreement at their Feb. 27-28 summit in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Both sides have said they remain open to diplomacy. However, Kim warned last week that continued deadlock risked reviving tensions and set an end-of-year deadline for the United States to offer a mutually acceptable approach to negotiations.
In a sign that the North is leaving its options open, Russia also confirmed Wednesday that preparations are underway for a possible summit between Kim and President Vladimir Putin.
Moscow has proposed several sites for the talks, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency.
KCNA didn’t provide details about the weapons system, which it called a new type of “tactical guided weapon” that showed the ability to be loaded with “a powerful warhead.” It said the test was conducted by the Academy of Defense Science.
There was no immediate response from Washington or South Korea.
A series of nuclear and missile tests by North Korea in 2016-17 sharply raised tensions as Trump and Kim traded threats of war. But the situation calmed after diplomatic efforts gained momentum last year.
The North also announced a long-range missile and nuclear-testing moratorium, although the communist state also test-fired what it called an “ultramodern tactical weapon” in November.
Trump has cited the testing moratorium as progress and said he would be disappointed if it resumed.
Experts said Wednesday’s test didn’t appear aimed at crossing that red line.
“It’s not as flagrant a violation as an [intercontinental ballistic missile] test. So that gives Trump room to ignore or downplay the test,” said Jean Lee of the Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center.
“But it is designed to serve as a reminder that North Korea has limited patience – and is continuing to devote attention and resources to defense,” she added.
Lee said the test also was likely aimed at placating hard-liners, “especially after the breakdown at Hanoi.”
Nuclear talks have stalled as the United States insists it will maintain punishing economic sanctions until denuclearization is achieved. The North wants a reciprocal approach that would include rewards for disarmament steps already taken.
Harry Kazianis, the Korean studies director for the U.S.-based Center for the National Interest, noted that Kim never promised to stop all weapons testing.
“Kim is trying to make a statement to the Trump administration that his military potential is growing by the day, and that his regime is becoming frustrated with Washington’s lack of flexibility in recent negotiations,” he said in an emailed statement.
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