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

Justin Sink, Nathan Crooks and Youkyung Lee
Kim Jong Un Tests ‘Tactical Weapon’ in Signal Over Nuclear Talks

(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 Defense 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.

“It’s a message to the U.S., don’t neglect the North Korean issue,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. The test is the first announced by North Korea of a major weapon since Kim’s summit with Trump in Hanoi fell apart in February without a deal.

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.

The weapon was likely a short-range rocket system, or something that was ground tested, said Melissa Hanham, a non-proliferation expert and director of the One Earth Future Foundation’s Datayo Project. “North Korean state media carefully avoided the word ‘missile’ in their statement, however the rhetoric around the test was very evocative of a ‘powerful’ weapon,” she said.

The weapon tested was linked to North Korea’s munitions industry, which is “sanctioned by the UN and U.S., and is linked to North Korea’s nuclear and missile program,” Hanham said.

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 a 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.

The tests comes amid speculation that Kim may be seeking guidance on the nuclear negotiations from a powerful friend. 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.

(Adds analysts’ comments above the first subhead.)

--With assistance from Nick Wadhams.

To contact the reporters on this story: Justin Sink in Washington at jsink1@bloomberg.net;Nathan Crooks in Miami at ncrooks@bloomberg.net;Youkyung Lee in Seoul at ylee582@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, ;Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Jon Herskovitz, Colin Keatinge

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.