North Korea: Missile test was a ‘solemn warning’
The message in the country’s state media was said to be directed at ‘South Korean military warmongers’.
A day after two North Korean missile launches rattled Asia, the nation announced that its leader Kim Jong Un supervised a test of a new-type tactical guided weapon that was meant to be a “solemn warning” over South Korean weapons development and plans to hold military exercises.
South Korea’s military said that the flight data of the weapon launched on Thursday showed similarities to the Russian-made Iskander, a short-range, nuclear-capable missile.
A North Korean version could likely reach all of South Korea — and the 28,500 US forces stationed there — and would be extremely hard to intercept.
The North Korean statement was carried in state media and directed at “South Korean military warmongers”.
It comes as US and North Korean officials struggle to set up talks after a recent meeting on the Korean border between Mr Kim and US president Donald Trump seemed to provide a step forward in stalled nuclear negotiations.
The statement made clear that North Korea is infuriated over Seoul’s purchase of US-made high-tech fighter jets and US-South Korean plans to hold military drills this summer that the North says are rehearsals for an invasion and proof of the allies’ hostility to Pyongyang.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down Thursday’s launches and said in an interview with Bloomberg TV that working-level talks with North Korea could start “in a couple weeks”.
“Everybody tries to get ready for negotiations and create leverage and create risk for the other side,” Mr Pompeo said of the launches.
The North Korean message on Friday said the test “must have given uneasiness and agony to some targeted forces enough as it intended”.
It also accused South Korea of introducing “ultramodern offensive weapons”, likely a reference to South Korea’s purchase and ongoing deployment of US-made F-35 fighter jets.
Earlier this month, North Korea said it would develop and test “special weapons” to destroy the aircraft.
In its biggest weapons purchase, South Korea is to buy 40 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin by 2021. The first two arrived in March and two others are to be delivered in coming weeks.
After watching the weapons’ launches, Mr Kim said they are “hard to intercept” because of the “low-altitude gliding and leaping flight orbit of the tactical guided missile,” according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
He was quoted as saying the possession of “such a state-of-the-art weaponry system” is of “huge eventful significance” in bolstering his country’s armed forces and guaranteeing national security.
Earlier on Friday, the South Korean-US combined forces command issued a statement saying the launches “were not a threat directed at (South Korea) or the US, and have no impact on our defence posture”.
The launches were the first known weapons tests by North Korea in more than two months. When North Korea fired three missiles into the sea in early May, many outside experts also said at the time those weapons strongly resembled the Iskander.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Friday described the launches as “acts of provocation” that are “not helpful to an efforts to alleviate military tensions on the Korean Peninsula”.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus urged “no more provocations,” saying the US is committed to diplomatic engagement with North Korea.
“We continue to press and hope for these working-level negotiations to move forward,” she said.
North Korea is banned by UN Security Council resolutions from engaging in any launch using ballistic technology.
While the North could face international condemnation over the latest launches, it is unlikely that the nation, already under 11 rounds of UN sanctions, will be hit with fresh punitive measures.
The UN council has typically imposed new sanctions only when the North conducted long-range ballistic launches.