North Korea says it has test-fired a new type of “tactical guided weapon”, its first such test in nearly half a year, and demanded that Washington remove secretary of state Mike Pompeo from nuclear negotiations.
The test, which did not appear to be of a banned mid or long-range ballistic missile that could scuttle negotiations, allows Pyongyang to show its people it is pushing ahead with weapons development while also reassuring domestic military officials worried that diplomacy with Washington signals weakness.
In a separate statement, Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry accused Mr Pompeo of playing down the significance of comments by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who said last week that Washington has until the end of the year to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement to salvage the high-stakes nuclear diplomacy.
The demand for Mr Pompeo’s removal from the talks and the weapon test point to Pyongyang’s displeasure with the deadlocked negotiations.
Mr Kim observed the unspecified weapon being fired on Wednesday by the Academy of Defence Science, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said.
Mr Kim was reported to have said: “The development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army.”
The Associated Press could not independently verify North Korea’s claim, and it was not immediately clear what had been tested. A ballistic missile test would jeopardise the diplomatic talks meant to provide the North with concessions in return for disarmament.
A South Korean analyst said details in the North’s media report indicate it could have been a new type of cruise missile. Another possible clue: 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 during an apparent deadlock in nuclear disarmament talks after the failed summit in Hanoi between Mr Kim and President Donald Trump earlier this year.
Some in Seoul worry that the North will turn back to actions seen as provocative by outsiders as a way to force Washington to drop its hardline negotiating stance and grant the North’s demand for a removal of crushing international sanctions.
A string of increasingly powerful weapons tests in 2017 and Mr Trump’s response of “fire and fury” had many fearing war before the North shifted to diplomacy.
Media reports have suggested Mr Kim may visit Vladivostok next week for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Japan’s Fuji Television Network showed Mr Kim’s de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, visiting an area near Vladivostok’s train station.
Ahead of Kim Jong Un’s two summits with Mr Trump, Kim Chang Son visited Singapore and Vietnam in advance and handled logistical preparations.
Mr Trump said last month that he “would be very disappointed if I saw testing”.