North Korea said on Thursday that it test-fired a new type of “tactical guided weapon,” in what appeared to be a warning from Kim Jong-un to President Trump that unless negotiations with Washington resume, the two countries could again be on a collision course, the New York Times reported.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency did not specify what type of weapon was involved in the test. But there was no evidence the test involved a nuclear detonation or an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Pyongyang has observed a voluntary moratorium of those tests since November 2017, and President Trump has repeatedly said that the North’s self-imposed suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests was one of his administration’s biggest achievements, crediting himself with averting war by first threatening the North with “fire and fury” and then holding two face-to-face meetings with Mr. Kim.
But at the latest of those meetings, in Hanoi in February the two leaders failed to reach an agreement after Trump rejected, at the insistence of his top advisers, Kim’s proposal to lift the harshest sanctions on the North in return for suspending operations at North Korea’s largest nuclear facility, the Times noted.
Experts said it was likely that the test announced on Thursday morning in Pyongyang was a demonstration of a conventional weapons system, perhaps artillery or antiaircraft. If so, that would amount to signal-sending by Kim, who North Korea media said witnessed the test.
His presence sent an unmistakable message: That the North would continue to amass new arms while the standoff with Washington continued. Kim hailed the event as having “very weighty significance.”
In recent days the North Korean leader has said he would give the United States until the end of the year to come up with concrete proposals that would lift sanctions on the North – an implicit warning that, after that deadline, it might resume the nuclear and intercontinental missile testing that had appeared, in the summer of 2017, to be leading to conflict, the Times writes.
Shortly after announcing the weapons test, the North Koreans threw in a new condition to any continued talks: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, considered a hard-liner who helped persuade Trump to reject North Korea’s proposed terms for an agreement, could not be part of future negotiations.
In a statement, a foreign ministry official, Kwon Jong-gun, accused Pompeo of “letting loose reckless remarks and sophism of all kinds against us every day.”
Several days ago, appearing with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Trump for the first time suggested he might be willing to entertain a “step-by-step” deal to denuclearization – contradicting his own senior aides, who had been insisting in public comments and private briefings with reporters that only a full dismantlement of the North’s nuclear weapons, missiles and facilities would result in the lifting of sanctions.
At the meeting in Hanoi, the second between the two leaders who first met in Singapore in June 2018, Trump had proposed exactly that grand bargain: North Korea would get rid of its entire nuclear weapons arsenal, as well as the material and facilities needed to build and test the weapons, in exchange for an end to the American-led sanctions.