North Korea on Thursday reported the development of a new tactical weapons system, adding uncertainty to the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
According to the North’s Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attended the testing of a newly developed guided tactical weapons system on Wednesday, and applauded the development as having a “very big significance” in strengthening the country’s military capabilities.
The KCNA also quoted Kim as saying that “active progress in our own weapons systems is a very good development,” and claimed Wednesday’s test proved the new system is fully functional.
Details have not been made public, but the newly developed weapon is believed to be a short-range guided missile, or a land-to-land precision missile.
Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense declined to provide details on the matter, saying the ministry was aware of related developments and that collected information is being analyzed. The Ministry of Unification also declined to comment, though it said it is keeping a close eye on North Korea.
The KCNA also reported Thursday that North Korea’s Foreign Ministry no longer wishes to deal with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“If dialogue with the US is resumed, I only hope that someone other than Pompeo, someone who can communicate with us more easily and more familiar will be our counterpart,” Kwon Jong-gun, a North Korean Foreign Ministry official in charge of US affairs said in an interview with the KCNA.
He blamed Pompeo for the failure of the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi and said that his further involvement would disrupt negotiations.
“What is fortunate is that the chairman and President Trump’s personal relationship remains good, and that the chairman is happy about having a close relationship with President Trump,” he added.
While the South Korean government remains tight-lipped about the weapons test, experts say the test and North Korean media reports carry a message for Seoul and Washington.
“North Korea is saying that it will maintain military readiness. At the same time, it is showing that it will not do something that will end negotiations, such as a missile or nuclear test,” said Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, adding that the North wants to show it will not negotiate from a weaker position.
According to Cha, recent developments in North Korea and Seoul-Washington relations do not bode well for President Moon Jae-in’s hopes to mediate between Pyongyang and Washington.
Following his summit with US President Donald Trump last week, Moon has called for preparations to be made for a fourth inter-Korean summit, in an apparent move to mediate between Kim and Trump.
Kim, meanwhile, has criticized Seoul’s efforts to work as a mediator and facilitator in the US-North Korea negotiations.
“South Korea is likely to have brought up sanctions (in the summit) but the US has said that it is too early to ease sanctions. The only thing the US has taken onboard is that a flexible approach may be possible; that a big deal may not be the only option,” Cha said.
He said that with the US taking such a position, Pyongyang is likely to feel that the South Korean government has little influence over Washington’s position.
“Even with a small deal, it means (the US is saying) do not ask for sweeping sanctions relief. This is a repeat of the Hanoi summit.”
The Feb. 27-28 US-North Korea summit ended without an agreement, which, according to the US, was unavoidable as Kim demanded effectively full sanctions relief in return for a limited portion of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
As for the US, it is hoping for more concrete evidence of intent to denuclearize from North Korea before pursuing further summit-level talks.
In an interview with Bloomberg, national security adviser John Bolton said that while Trump is open to a third summit with Kim, North Korea needs to prove its commitment.
“I think a real indication from North Korea that they’ve made the strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons,” Bolton was quoted as saying by Bloomberg when asked what the US needs to see.
“The president is fully prepared to have a third summit if he can get a real deal,” Bolton said.
Asked if progress has been made in denuclearization, Bolton said, “I wouldn’t say we could say that at this point.”
Regarding Washington’s cooperation with Seoul on the matter, Bolton said the US has “tried to stay very close to the government of South Korea,” and is closely following Moon’s plans for an inter-Korean summit.