The test, which didn’t appear to be of a banned mid- or long-range ballistic missile that could scuttle negotiations, allows North Korea to show its people it is pushing ahead with weapons development while also reassuring domestic military officials worried that diplomacy with Washington signals weakness.
Separately, the North Korean Foreign Ministry accused Pompeo of playing down the significance of comments by leader Kim Jong Un, who said last week that Washington has until the end of the year to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement to salvage the high-stakes nuclear diplomacy.
Both the demand for Pompeo’s removal from the talks and the weapon test point to North Korea’s displeasure with the deadlocked negotiations.
In a statement issued under the name of Kwon Jong Gun, director general of the American Affairs Department at the Foreign Ministry, North Korea accused Pompeo of “talking nonsense” and misrepresenting Kim’s comments.
During a speech at Texas A&M on Monday, Pompeo said Kim promised to denuclearize during his first summit with President Donald Trump and that U.S. officials were working with the North Koreans to “chart a path forward so we can get there.”
“He (Kim) said he wanted it done by the end of the year,” Pompeo said. “I’d love to see that done sooner.” The North Korean statement said Pompeo was “misrepresenting the meaning of our requirement” for the negotiations to be finalized by the year’s end, and referred to his “talented skill of fabricating stories.”
It said Pompeo’s continued participation in the negotiations would ensure that the talks become “entangled” and called for a different counterpart who is “more careful and mature in communicating with us.” In a speech at his rubber-stamp parliament last week, Kim said he is open to a third summit with Trump, but only if the United States changes its stance on sanctions enforcement and pressure by the end of the year.
Kim observed the unspecified weapon being fired Wednesday by the Academy of Defense Science, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Kim was reported to have said “the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army.”
The Associated Press could not independently verify North Korea’s claim, and it wasn’t immediately clear what had been tested. A major ballistic missile test would jeopardize the diplomatic talks meant to provide the North with concessions in return for disarmament. A South Korean analyst said that details in the North’s media report indicate it could have been a new type of cruise missile. Another possible clue: one of the lower level officials mentioned in the North’s report on the test — Pak Jong Chon — is known as an artillery official.
Some in Seoul worry that the North will turn back to actions seen as provocative by outsiders as a way to force Washington to drop its hard-line negotiating stance and grant the North’s demand for a removal of crushing international sanctions. A string of increasingly powerful weapons tests in 2017 and Trump’s response of “fire and fury” had many fearing war before the North shifted to diplomacy.
Russia announced Thursday that Kim will visit later this month for talks at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, but gave no further details. Russian media have been abuzz in recent days with rumors about the rare meeting between the leaders. Putin is to visit China later this month, and some media speculated that he could meet with Kim in Vladivostok, the far eastern port city near the border with North Korea. Trump said last month that he “would be very disappointed if I saw testing.”
There have been fresh reports of new activity at a North Korean missile research center and long-range rocket site where the North is believed to build missiles targeting the U.S. mainland. North Korean media said Wednesday that Kim guided a flight drill of combat pilots from an air force and anti-aircraft unit tasked with defending the North from an attack.
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said North Korea’s descriptions of the test show the weapon is possibly a newly developed cruise missile. The North’s report said the “tactical guided weapon” successfully tested in a “peculiar mode of guiding flight” and demonstrated the ability to deliver a “powerful warhead.”
The analyst said the test could also be intended as a message to the North Korean people and military of a commitment to maintaining a strong level of defense even as it continues talks with Washington over nukes.
Melissa Hanham, a non-proliferation expert and director of the Datayo Project at the One Earth Future Foundation, said the North Korean weapon could be anything from an anti-tank weapon to a cruise missile.
The North said Thursday that Kim Jong Un mounted an observation post to learn about and guide the test-fire of the weapon.