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North Korea’s Kim praises new weapons tests, vows ‘invincible military capabilities’

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over a military parade held in Pyongyang to mark the 105th birthday of late founder Kim Il-sung on April 15, 2017. (Yonhap News/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)
August 19, 2019

North Korea’s test-firing of “projectiles” Friday morning was of a “new weapon,” state-run media said Saturday, with leader Kim Jong Un urging his scientists to continue building weapons “to discourage any forces from daring to provoke us.”

A report carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim had observed the launch of “juche shells” — a weapon that experts said was a weapon akin to the type of missiles tested on Aug. 10. “Juche” refers to the North’s national ideology of self-reliance.

The North Korean leader also expressed “great satisfaction” over his military’s “mysterious and amazing success rates” in recent testing activity and vowed to build up “invincible military capabilities,” the KCNA report said.

“The national defense scientists showed a perfect result in the test-fire … and helped cement bigger confidence in this weapon system,” the dispatch said.

Both Saturday’s KCNA report, which referred to the missiles as a “new weapon,” and the one last week did not reveal further details, but photos published with the reports showed what appeared to be similar missile systems.

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Kim, chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, was quoted as urging all to “remember that it is the Party’s core plan and fixed will for defense building to possess such a powerful force strong enough to discourage any forces from daring to provoke us and to leave all others vulnerable to our Juche weapons of absolute power.”

The South Korean military said Friday that the North had fired two unidentified “short-range projectiles” into the Sea of Japan, with both flying around 230 kilometers (143 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30 km (18 miles) and a top speed of around Mach 6.1.

Those launches were the sixth in just over three weeks, and came after the North blasted South Korean President Moon Jae-in as “impudent” and vowed not to meet again with Seoul officials, rejecting a vow Thursday by Moon to pursue talks with the North and to bring reunification of the peninsula by 2045, the 100th anniversary of its liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

In its condemnation of Moon, the North repeated criticism that ongoing joint U.S.-South Korean military drills that began earlier this month are a sign of Seoul’s hostility toward Pyongyang, which views the exercises as a rehearsal for invasion. Seoul and Washington characterize the exercises, which have been scaled down from previous years, as purely defensive.

The North has fired a spate of short-range missiles in recent weeks, including weapons designed to penetrate defenses. Speculation has grown that the missiles fired Friday and earlier this month bore similarities to the U.S. Army’s Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) surface-to-surface missile.

The North’s weapons launched in recent months were solid-fueled, had longer ranges, lower apogees and faster maximum speeds, and were fired from transporter erector launchers (TELs). Experts say these types of mobile ballistic missile systems would expand the North’s ability to strike targets throughout South Korea, including U.S. bases there, and possibly even put Japan within striking distance.

“North Korea is working to make its missile-related technologies more sophisticated, and this is an extremely serious situation for the international community,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said in Tokyo on Friday, stressing that the North’s short- and medium-range missiles pose a “grave threat” to Japan.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said Thursday that one of the weapons tested, a missile known as the KN-23, “could probably hit all of South Korea and parts of Japan.”

U.S. allies are “quite concerned about it,” Bolton said in an interview with the Voice of America.

“These resolutions violate U.N. Security Council sanctions, and they don’t violate the pledge that Kim Jong Un made to President (Donald) Trump, that’s true, but they are troubling for everybody watching the peninsula,” he added.

ButTrump’s repeated downplaying of the launches has allowed the country more room to intensify its testing activity and advance its short-range weaponry while it seeks to build leverage ahead of denuclearization talks with Washington that could resume after the end of the joint military drills later this month, experts say.

“As a lot of specialist analysis has already noted, the tests will further improve North Korea’s capacity to undertake first-strikes against targets in the ROK and Japan and, as a corollary, exert coercion against these two countries as the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence commitments continues to decline,” Andrew O’Neil, an expert on North Korea and a professor at Griffith University in Australia, said, using the acronym for the South’s formal name, the Republic of Korea. “The program will improve the North’s ability to overwhelm missile defenses and potentially hold a wider range of targets at ransom in any crisis.”

O’Neil said that the North appears to have “normalized” its current testing program “largely thanks to Trump’s nonreaction, and indeed Seoul’s euphemistic labeling of missiles as ‘projectiles.’ “

Ahead of the possible resumption of nuclear negotiations, the U.S. State Department said Friday that the special envoy for North Korea will travel to Japan and South Korea next week to coordinate efforts to secure Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

Stephen Biegun will be in Japan from Monday to Tuesday and in Seoul from Tuesday to Thursday, the State Department said in a statement.

News of Biegun’s trip came after U.S. President Donald Trump said last Saturday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had told him in a “beautiful letter” that he was ready to resume stalled denuclearization talks with the United States and would stop recent missile testing as soon as U.S.-South Korea military exercises wrapped up.

The statement said the purpose of the trip was “to further strengthen coordination on the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea.

Trump and Kim have met three times since last year to discuss ways to resolve a crisis over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, but progress has been scant on Washington’s aim of getting the North Korea leader to relinquish his arsenal.

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© 2019 the Japan Times