Asia Pacific

North Korea's Kim inspects testing of newly developed 'tactical' weapon

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has overseen the test of a new “ultramodern tactical weapon,” the North’s state-run media reported Friday in the first mention of such a test in months.

Kim hailed the “great success,” which he said “serves as another striking demonstration of the validity of the Party policy of prioritizing defence science and technology and the rapidly developing defence capability of the country and as a decisive turn in bolstering the fighting capacity of the Korean People’s Army,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

The report said that Kim had visited a national defense institute site, overseeing the test of the unspecified new tactical weapon.

Kim said that the weapons system tested was one that his late father, Kim Jong Il, was especially interested during his lifetime and led the development of personally.

The visit was the first so-called field inspection by the North Korean leader of a weapons test since November last year, when he oversaw a test of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile. Experts believe that missiles is capable of striking much, if not all, of the continental United States.

While Kim’s visit was likely to raise eyebrows in Washington amid stalled nuclear talks between the two countries, the ambiguity of the weapon tested, as a well as a separate report by KCNA about an economic-focused visit by the North Korean leader, appeared intended to temper any criticism.

The weapons test comes as questions swirl over progress in denuclearization talks between the North and the United States after the landmark June 12 summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

At that summit, the two leaders agreed to work toward denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The 1½ page joint statement released at the meeting, however, was short on specifics, and negotiations have made little headway since.

Pyongyang has demanded the relaxation of crushing sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs. Washington has balked at this demand, saying that there will be no easing in international sanctions until North Korea takes more concrete steps to relinquish its nuclear weapons program.

Asked about the report, a U.S. State Department spokesman told The Japan Times that Washington is “talking with the North Koreans about implementing all” the commitments made in Singapore.

“The president has made clear that if Kim Jong Un denuclearizes, there is a bright future for North Korea,” the spokesman said. “We remain confident that the promises made by President Trump and Chairman Kim will be fulfilled.”

Trump on Tuesday criticized what he called “inaccurate” media reports that North Korea had not declared an estimated 20 missile bases, and added in a tweet: “I will be the first to let you know if things go bad!”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been due to meet North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol, who is believed to be the right-hand man to Kim Jong Un, in New York earlier this month, but that meeting was suddenly postponed just days before it was scheduled to be held.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that Trump plans to meet Kim Jong Un again next year, and will push for a concrete plan outlining the North’s moves to abandon its weapons programs.

In January, Kim declared his country had “perfected” its nuclear forces and later in the year announced that it was halting longer-range missile and nuclear testing, setting the stage for the June summit.

But in the more than five months since, negotiators have yet to elicit from Pyongyang a declaration detailing its weapons programs or a promise to rein in the deployment of its existing arsenal.

Instead, the North has touted the closure of its main Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the apparent ongoing shuttering of its Sohae missile-engine test facility. It has also dangled the possibility of closing others sites and allowing international inspections — but only if Washington takes “corresponding measures,” namely the relaxing of sanctions.

These repeated demands of reciprocal moves, however, have been met with the same response by Washington: Pyongyang must first give up its nuclear weapons.

This prompted North Korea to warn earlier this month that it could even revive its scrapped policy of pyongjin (parallel advance), in which the country simultaneously pursues economic and nuclear development, if the its demand is not met.

In April, Kim abruptly announced he was retiring dual-track policy and adopting a “new strategic line” that focuses on rebuilding the country’s tattered economy.

Perhaps more pressing for Washington and Tokyo than a return to this stance, however, have been recent media reports citing anonymous U.S. intelligence officials as saying that work on the North’s nuclear program continues unabated, despite its pledge to take steps in the opposite direction.

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