Sunday 25 August 2019

North Korea could 'jeopardise talks' after missile tests

Kim Jong-Un: The North leader inspected a newly built sub this week
Kim Jong-Un: The North leader inspected a newly built sub this week

Hyonhee Shin

North Korea test-fired two new short-range missiles yesterday, South Korean officials said, the first such launch since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump agreed to revive stalled denuclearisation talks last month.

South Korea's Defence Ministry urged the North to stop acts that are unhelpful to easing tension.

It was not immediately clear if the missiles used ballistic technology, which would be a breach of UN Security Council resolutions targeting North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

North Korea launched the missiles from the east coast city of Wonsan with one flying about 430km and the other 690km over the sea. They both reached an altitude of 50km, an official at South Korea's Defence Ministry said.

Some analysts said the North appears to have retested missiles it fired in May, but two South Korean military officials said the missiles appeared to be a new design.

The launch casts new doubt on efforts to restart denuclearisation talks after Mr Trump and Mr Kim met at the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas at the end of June.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho had been expected to meet on the sidelines of a South-east Asian security forum in Bangkok next week.

But a diplomatic source said that Mr Ri had cancelled his trip.

The White House, Pentagon and US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

South Korea had detected signs prior to the launch and was conducting detailed analysis with the United States, the presidential Blue House said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test had no immediate impact on Japan's security, according to Kyodo News.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has taken a hard line toward North Korea, made no mention of the launches in a tweet yesterday after a visit to South Korea. He said he had "productive meetings" on regional security.

South Korea's nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, had phone calls with his US counterpart, Stephen Biegun, and his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, to share their assessment, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing that Beijing had noted the launch, calling for North Korea and the United States to reopen negotiations "as early as possible".

After Mr Trump and Mr Kim met last month, the United States and North Korea vowed to hold a new round of working-level talks soon, but Pyongyang has since sharply criticised upcoming joint military drills by US and South Korean troops.

North Korea's Foreign Ministry accused Washington this month of breaking a promise by holding military exercises with South Korea. On Tuesday, Mr Kim inspected a large, newly built submarine from which ballistic missiles could be launched.

"By firing missiles, taking issue with military drills and showing a new submarine, the North is sending one clear message: there might be no working-level talks if the United States doesn't present a more flexible stance," said Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear envoy.

Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who now teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the weapons tested appeared to be the same as the ones tested in May, which were less of a challenge than long-range missiles.

Irish Independent

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