North Korea says leader Kim supervised tests of weapons systems
Seoul, South Korea – North Korea said Sunday leader Kim Jong Un supervised test-firings of an unspecified new weapons system, which extended a streak of weapons demonstrations that are seen as an attempt to build leverage ahead of negotiations with the United States.
The report by North Korean state media came hours after President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed a desire to meet again to start nuclear negotiations after joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises end and apologized for the flurry of recent short-range ballistic launches that rattled U.S. allies in the region.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry in a separate statement on Sunday blasted South Korea for continuing its military drills with the United States, and it said that future dialogue will be held strictly between Pyongyang and Washington and not between the Koreas.
The report by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency came a day after South Korea’s military said it detected the North launching what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff on Saturday said the presumed ballistic missiles fired from the North’s east coast flew about 400 kilometers (248 miles) before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
KCNA said Kim expressed “great satisfaction” over the testing firings, which it said verified that the new weapon system performs as designed.
The agency didn’t specify whether the weapons were ballistic missiles or rocket artillery, but said they were developed to suit the North’s “terrain condition” and provide “advantageous tactical character different to existing weapons systems.”
North Korea’s fifth round of weapons launches in less than three weeks was seen as a protest of the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with the United States and continuance of U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises the North claims are an invasion rehearsal.
Experts say Trump’s downplaying of the North’s recent short-range launches allowed the country more room to intensify its testing activity while it seeks to build leverage ahead of a possible resumption of negotiations, which had stalled since the collapse of Trump’s second summit with Kim in Vietnam in February over disagreements on exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament.
North Korea has claimed that the joint military drills between the allies, which began Monday, compel it to “develop, test and deploy the powerful physical means essential for national defense.”
By launching a slew of weapons that directly threaten South Korea but not the U.S. mainland or its Pacific territories, North Korea also appears to be dialing up pressure on Seoul to make stronger efforts to coax major concessions from the United States on Pyongyang’s behalf, experts say.
Amid the stalled nuclear negotiations, North Korea has ignored the South’s calls for dialogue while demanding that Seoul turn away from Washington and resume inter-Korean economic cooperation that has been held back by U.S.-led sanctions against the North.
In a statement released through KCNA, Kwon Jong Gun, director of the American affairs department at Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry, criticized South Korea for raising concerns over the North’s recent testing activity while continuing to host joint military drills with the United States.
The statement came a day after the North lashed out at South Korea’s recent acquisition of U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets and other plans to expand its military capabilities, saying that the South will gain “nothing but destruction” if it pursues a contest of strength with the North.
“Though we are to enter into a dialogue in future as the currents flow in favor of dialogue, (the South) had better keep in mind that this dialogue would be held strictly between the D.P.R.K and the U.S., not between the North and the South,” Kwon said, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Given that the military exercise clearly puts us as an enemy in its concept, they should think that an inter-Korean contact itself will be difficult to be made unless they put an end to such a military exercise or before they make a plausible excuse or an explanation in a sincere manner for conducting the military exercise,” Kwon said.
South Korea has said North Korea’s recent launches could hurt efforts to stabilize peace on the Korean Peninsula and called for the North to uphold an agreement to form a joint military committee to discuss reducing tensions, which was part of the inter-Korean military agreement reached last year.
Hours after the North’s latest launches, Trump tweeted that Kim spent much of his letter complaining about “the ridiculous and expensive” U.S.-South Korea military exercises. He said that Kim offered him “a small apology” for the flurry of missile tests, and that he assured him they would stop when the exercises end.