North Korea said Saturday its leader Kim Jong-un supervised another test-firing of a new multiple rocket launcher system that could potentially enhance the country’s ability to strike targets in South Korea and U.S. military bases there. Experts say the North’s increased testing activity is aimed at ramping up pressure on Washington and Seoul over stalled nuclear negotiations with the United States and planned U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and that its weapons displays could intensify in the coming months if progress in talks isn’t made.
South Korea’s military had also concluded the weapons North Korea tested on Wednesday are ballistic missiles and maintained its assessment even after the North described them as a newly developed “large-calibre multiple launch guided rocket system.” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday’s launches were conducted at 2:59 a.m. and 3:23 a.m. from an eastern coastal area and the projectiles flew 220 kilometres. The range would be enough to cover the metropolitan area surrounding Seoul, where about half of South Koreans live, and a major U.S. military base just outside the city.
On July 25, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles that Seoul officials said flew 600 kilometres before landing in the sea.
North objects to drills, purchase of fighter jets
North Korea said those tests were designed to deliver a “solemn warning” to South Korea over its purchase of high-tech, U.S.-made fighter jets and the planned military drills, which Pyongyang calls an invasion rehearsal. The North also tested short-range missiles on May 4 and 9.
The North’s new launches came as the United Kingdom, France and Germany — following a closed U.N. Security Council briefing — condemned the North’s recent ballistic activity as violations of UN sanctions and urged Pyongyang to engage in “meaningful negotiations” with the United States on eliminating its nukes. The three countries said international sanctions should remain in place until North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs are dismantled.
“It is the very self-evident truth that any projectile draws a ballistic curve, not a straight line owing to earth gravity. The UNSC takes issue with the firing based on the ballistic technology, not the range of the projectile, which means that the DPRK should give up the right to self-defence,” the spokesperson said, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he wasn’t worried about the weapons recently tested by North Korea, calling them “short-range missiles” that were “very standard.” However, the North’s recent weapons demonstrations have dampened the optimism that followed Trump’s impromptu summit with Kim on June 30 at the inter-Korean border. The leaders agreed to resume working-level nuclear talks that stalled since February, but there have been no known meetings between the two sides since then. The North has claimed the United States would violate an agreement between the leaders if it moves on with its planned military exercises with South Korea. It said it will wait to see if the August exercises actually take place to decide on the fate of its diplomacy with Washington and also whether to continue its suspension of nuclear and ICBM tests.