North Korea has test-fired a “new-type tactical guided weapon”, its state media announced Thursday.
The move could be an attempt to register the country’s displeasure with currently deadlocked nuclear talks with the United States without causing those coveted negotiations to collapse.
The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, observed the firing by the Academy of Defence Science of the unspecified weapon on Wednesday, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
Kim was reported to have said that “the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army”.
KCNA did not describe exactly what the weapon is, including whether it was a missile or another type of weapon, but “tactical” implies a short-range weapon, as opposed to the long-range ballistic missiles that have been seen as a threat to the United States.
Nevertheless, the weapon has a “peculiar mode of guiding flight” and “a powerful warhead”, KCNA said.
After a failed nuclear disarmament summit in Hanoi between Kim and US President Donald Trump earlier this year, the two sides have had little reported contact.
There have been worries among observers that the North would turn to weapons testing — which it has largely halted since a series of tests in 2017 had many fearing war — and other actions seen as provocative by outsiders as a way to force Washington to drop its current hard-line negotiating stance and grant the North’s demand for a removal of crushing international sanctions.
The Associated Press could not immediately and independently verify North Korea’s claim of the weapons test, and it wasn’t immediately clear what had been tested.
The recent activity, however, is likely not a banned ballistic missile test, which would jeopardise diplomatic talks meant to provide the North with concessions in return for disarmament.
One of the lower level officials mentioned in the North’s report on the test — Pak Jong Chon — is known as an artillery official.
The test comes amid reports of new activity at a North Korean missile research centre and long-range rocket site where the North is believed to build missiles targeting the US mainland.
The North said that Kim mounted an observation post to learn about the test-fire of the new-type tactical guided weapon and to guide the test-fire.
This is the first known time Kim has observed the testing of a newly developed weapon system since last November, when North Korean media said he observed the successful test of an unspecified “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon”.
Some observers have been expecting North Korea to orchestrate “low-level provocations”, like artillery or short-range missile tests, to register its anger over the way nuclear negotiations were going.
The White House said it was aware of the report and had no comment. The Pentagon said it was aware of the reports but has no information to provide at this point.
After the animosity of 2017, last year saw a stunning turn to diplomacy, culminating in the first-ever leaders’ meeting between Washington and Pyongyang in Singapore.
But fears have since emerged that the progress could be killed by mismatched demands between Washington and Pyongyang over sanctions relief and disarmament.
Washington says it won’t allow the North’s desired sanctions relief until the nation commits to verifiably relinquishing his nuclear facilities, weapons and missiles.
Kim has shown no signs that he’s willing to give away an arsenal he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.
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