Kim Jong-un watched weapons test, says North Korean state media
Experts say Pyongyang is stepping up pressure against US after failed nuclear summit
Sat 4 May 2019 19.41 EDT.
North Korean state media has said leader Kim Jong-un observed a live-fire drill of long-range multiple rocket launchers and unspecified tactical guided weapons. The admission came a day after South Korea’s military detected North Korea launching several unidentified short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim expressed “great satisfaction” over Saturday’s drills and stressed that his frontline troops should keep a “high-alert posture” and enhance combat ability to “defend the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance of the country”.
Earlier South Korea has issued a stern rebuke to Pyongyang for escalating military tensions on the divided peninsula for firing what it called a series of “unidentified short-range projectiles” into the sea.
The projectiles were fired on Saturday from the east coast city of Wonsan at around 9am, and flew 70 to 200km towards the north-east, South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
The launches were likely to be meant as a warning to the US after the failure of a denuclearisation summit in Hanoi between North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and the US president, Donald Trump, analysts said.
North Korea had hoped to get US sanctions lifted at the February meeting, but Trump walked away, claiming that Pyongyang was not prepared to go far enough in dismantling its nuclear weapons programme.
Since then both leaders have said they are open to meeting again, and praised their personal relationship, but there has been little movement on key obstacles to a deal.
On Saturday Trump tweeted: “Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realises the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”
Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum, said Saturday’s action was an expression of the North’s frustration. “It is a message that [North Korea] could return to the previous confrontational mode if there is no breakthrough in the stalemate,” he told Reuters.
The projectiles appeared to be fired from multiple rocket launchers and were not ballistic missiles, Reuters reported, citing weapons experts. South Korea had initially said North Korea had launched missiles but later gave the more vague description.
In response to the firings, Seoul issued one of the strongest statements since the two countries launched a fresh round of reconciliation efforts last year.
“We are very concerned about the North’s latest action,” said South Korea, warning that North Korea had violated a military agreement between the two states, and calling on it to “stop acts that escalate military tension on the Korean peninsula”.
The last North Korean missile launch was in November 2017, after a year of testing increasingly powerful weapons prompted belligerent responses from Trump, raising concerns about war.
Soon after, though, Pyongyang declared its nuclear programme complete, then extended an olive branch to the US. It culminated in a first summit between Kim and Trump, which both sides declared a success.
Kim signed a joint statement committing to denuclearisation, but it was a vaguely worded commitment that the regime has made several times before over the past three decades.
Pyongyang has been reluctant to commit to further concrete steps, but with sanctions biting hard is pushing the US to offer economic relief.
On Tuesday the vice foreign minister warned of “undesired consequences” for the US if it fails to present a new position in talks by the end of the year. And in a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin late last month, Kim issued a barely veiled warning to the US that the Korean peninsula could easily slide back into a state of hostility. Trump in turn has tried to recruit Putin to increase pressure on Kim to denuclearise.
Categories: Rumors and Threats of Wars