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Kim Jong Un Tests `Tactical Weapon’ in Signal Over Nuclear Talks

By Bloomberg 18 April 2019
Caption
Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Photographer: Pool/Bloomberg

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the test-firing of a “new-type tactical guided weapon,” state media reported, in a likely signal of displeasure over stalled nuclear talks with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim personally supervised the demonstration conducted by the Academy of Defence Science on Wednesday, the official Korean Central News Agency said. The report was vague about the nature of the weapon, saying only that the “peculiar mode of guiding flight and the load of a powerful warhead were perfectly verified at the test-fire conducted in various modes of firing at different targets.”

While the description suggests the weapon wasn’t a nuclear device or intercontinental ballistic missile, the test sends a pointed message to the U.S. and its allies in Seoul about the risk of allowing talks to fall apart. Trump has long defended his decision to hold two high-profile summits with Kim by citing Kim’s decision to halt nuclear and ICBM tests.

A White House official, who asked not to be identified, said the administration was aware of the report and declined further comment.

Still, the lack of details made it hard to assess how the test would impact on ongoing nuclear talks. References to the weapon as “tactical” — as opposed to “strategic” — would seem to exclude an ICBM.

Earlier Test
In an event in November with similar overtones, Kim oversaw the test of what KCNA said was an “advanced tactical” weapon. While the move sent ripples through diplomatic circles at the time, it didn’t scuttle the negotiations and weeks later Trump announced plans for second summit.

Trump last week rejected a call for confidence-building joint economic projects between Seoul and Pyongyang, and his national security adviser said Wednesday that the U.S. would need to see more evidence that Kim was ready to give up nuclear weapons before scheduling a third summit.

“The president is fully prepared to have a third summit if he can get a real deal,” U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg News. The White House would need to see “a real indication from North Korea that they’ve made the strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons.”

The White House’s skeptical tone comes after Trump walked out of the Feb. 28 summit with Kim, saying the North Korean leader was seeking significant sanctions relief without indicating a willingness to fully dismantle his nuclear program. Kim has escalated his rhetoric since the summit, urging top ruling party members last week to deal a “severe blow to hostile foreign forces” by resisting sanctions.

The North’s official media said earlier this week that Kim made an unannounced visit to the country’s air force and oversaw air defense training. Kim said the latest weapons test “serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army,” the KCNA report said Thursday.

Russia said earlier this week it is preparing for Kim to meet with President Vladimir Putin, setting the stage for consultations between the long-time allies after Kim’s nuclear talks with the U.S. broke down. DM

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