Saturday 24 August 2019

'Danger line' warning after North Korea tests missiles

Watching brief: Kim Jong-Un watches the latest round of missiles being fired. Photo: KRT via AP Video
Watching brief: Kim Jong-Un watches the latest round of missiles being fired. Photo: KRT via AP Video

Josh Smith and Joyce Lee

North Korea has fired missiles for the fourth time in less than two weeks, South Korea said yesterday.

The latest launch was revealed as Pyongyang warned that hostile moves against it "have reached the danger line".

It claimed that joint military drills between the US and South Korea violate a pledge given by Donald Trump to Kim Jong-un when they met on June 30.

The two countries agreed at that meeting to resume talks on denuclearisation. But North Korea has staged a series of launches since then.

Pyongyang says it is committed to diplomacy and will wait until the end of the year for the US to soften its sanctions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

But if Washington and Seoul disregard warnings, "we will make them pay (a) heavy price," a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement through state news agency KCNA.

Mr Trump has played down the tests by saying they did not break any agreement he had with Mr Kim but the talks have yet to resume.

Analysts believe the tests are designed both to improve North Korean military capabilities and to pressure Washington to offer more concessions.

"North Korea is expressing frustrations with a general lack of progress on the inter-Korean agenda while increasing leverage in US-North Korea negotiations by demonstrating how its programmes could and will continue to advance," said Jenny Town of 38 North, a website that tracks North Korea.

South Korean officials said what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles were fired on North Korea's west coast early yesterday.

It was the fourth set of launches since July 25.

A United Nations report said on Monday that Pyongyang has continued to enhance its nuclear and missile programmes.

The missile tests represent military advances, as well as helping Kim strengthen his bargaining power with the US, said Van Jackson, a former Pentagon official.

"Kim believes he doesn't need to compromise to get what he wants, doesn't need to conduct serious negotiations at the working level because he has recourse to Trump, and doesn't need to restrain any of his missile testing or actions abroad as long as he doesn't test an intercontinental ballistic missile," Mr Jackson said.

The North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said Pyongyang "will be compelled to seek a new road as we have already indicated" if South Korea and the US continue with hostile military moves.

The arrival of new US-made F-35A stealth fighters in South Korea, the visit of a US nuclear submarine, and US tests of ballistic missiles are among the steps that forced North Korea to continue its weapons development, he added.

"The US and South Korean authorities remain outwardly talkative about dialogue," he said. "But when they sit back, they sharpen a sword to do us harm."

New US-South Korea joint military exercises started on Monday, according to South Korea. A senior official said the drills would mainly involve computer simulations.

The testing of short-range missiles by North Korea is banned by a 2006 UN Security Council resolution demanding that North Korea suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme.

Japan's defence ministry said it did not see any imminent threat to Japanese security from the latest projectile launch by North Korea.

Irish Independent

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