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North Korea calls ‘long-range strike drill’ a success

Kim Jong-Un, center, arrives at Dong Dang railway station in Lang Son Province, Vietnam. Kim arrived in Vietnam Tuesday morning, Feb. 26, 2019 by train for his first official visit to the country and the second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, Vietnam News Agency reported. (BuaI Doan Tan/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)

North Korea said Friday that a “long-range” strike drill ordered by leader Kim Jong Un the day before was successful as concerns rose that nuclear talks with the communist state were in jeopardy.

The North fired two short-range missiles that flew more than 260 miles and 167 miles, respectively, across the country from a northwestern area, according to South Korea’s military.

It was the second missile test in less than a week, threatening to raise tensions as negotiations aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons have stalled.

President Donald Trump noted the missiles were short-range but expressed concern.

“We’re looking at it very seriously right now,” he told reporters Thursday at the White House. “Nobody’s happy about it.”

“The relationship continues, but we’ll see what happens,” he added. “I know they want to negotiate. They’re talking about negotiating, but I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate.”

The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency didn’t give details about the weapons involved and was devoid of the bellicose rhetoric used in past reports.

Kim gave the order to start the “strike drill of various long-range strike means,” according to KCNA.

“The successful drill … showed the might of the units which were fully prepared to proficiently carry out any operations and combat,” it said.

It also mentioned the launch on Saturday, when several rockets and what experts say was a Russian-style short-range ballistic missile were fired into the sea from the east coast.

That was the first missile test since November 2017, although it didn’t appear to violate the North’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests to facilitate the talks.

The North Korean leader “stressed the need to further increase the capability of the defense units” to maintain the strength needed to guarantee peace and security for the country, KCNA said.

The launch came as the main U.S. envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was visiting Seoul in an effort to get stalled diplomatic efforts with the North back on track. He was due to meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Friday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was marking the second anniversary of his inauguration on Friday, said his government and its ally the United States believe that short-range missiles had been fired, based on their flight distance.

However, he said it was too early to determine whether they had violated U.N. Security Council resolutions, which prohibit the North from using ballistic technology.

“I want to tell North Korea once again that it’s not ideal to repeat actions that … risk throwing cold water on the atmosphere of dialogue and negotiations,” Moon said Thursday night in an interview with South Korean broadcaster KBS.

Trump has frequently cited the moratorium as a reason to remain optimistic about efforts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons.

But North Korea has expressed increasing frustration over the lack of progress after the second summit between Kim and Trump ended without agreement in late February in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Both sides said talks would continue after that, but there has been no public movement.

Trump and Kim agreed to a vague promise to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” in their first summit on June 12 in Singapore.

But the adversaries have been unable to narrow the gap between Pyongyang’s desire for sanctions relief and other rewards for disarmament steps already taken. Trump’s administration insists punishing economic sanctions will remain in place until final, fully verified denuclearization is achieved.

North Korea said earlier Thursday that the salvos on Saturday were part of a “routine and self-defensive military drill” and mocked the South for criticizing them.

The North conducted a series of nuclear and missile tests in 2016-17 that demonstrated strong progress toward its goal of developing a weapon that could target the U.S. mainland.

Trump and Kim also traded personal insults and threats of war during months of heightened tensions that only ebbed early last year when the North agreed to engage in diplomacy and held a series of summits with Trump and Moon.

The sides remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

Some 28,500 U.S. servicemembers are based on the divided peninsula.


© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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