North Korea’s Kim Oversaw Test of ‘Super-Large’ Missile Launcher

Jon Herskovitz

(Bloomberg) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the test of a “super-large multiple rocket launcher” the state’s media said of the military display that came shortly after Pyongyang announced it was willing to restart nuclear talks with the U.S.

Kim, military leaders and top officials “in the field of national defense science” saw two rounds of test fire Tuesday of “tactical guided weapons including super-large multiple rocket launcher,” the official Korean Central News Agency said a day after the launches. South Korea said North Korea fired “short-range projectiles” into its eastern seas that flew about 330 kilometers (200 miles).

North Korea Tests More Weapons After Floating Fresh U.S. Talks

“The supreme leader said that the weapon system of super-large multiple rocket launcher has been finally verified in terms of combat operation,” KCNA said. It also released photos of the test that showed a smiling Kim, who has been on hand for almost all of his state’s series of missiles and weapon tests that started in May, standing by a launcher.

The test appeared to be of 600 mm caliber multiple-launch rocket system that North Korea first introduced last month, said Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. Panda adding that the trajectory varied considerably from the previous test, suggesting North Korea was exploring what this system was capable of.

“The North Korean statement hints at further testing, including possibly a so-called ‘ripple’ fire test, where they look to rapidly fire all of the four missiles this system can carry in one salvo,” said Panda, who covers nuclear and conventional force developments in Asia

Sanctions Busting

The Tuesday test came shortly after a top North Korean diplomat, Choe Son Hui, issued a statement saying the country would be willing to hold talks “at the time and place to be agreed late in September.” North Korea often ratchets up military tensions ahead of negotiations intended to end its nuclear ambitions.

North Korea was due to come into focus when UN General Assembly meeting starts next week in New York after a UN Security Panel report said Pyongyang was violating sanctions to help fund its weapons program. South Korea’s top nuclear envoy was due to go to China, the main benefactor of Kim’s government, this week to discuss developments on the divided peninsula.

The North Korean statement cited recent comments by U.S. officials expressing a desire for negotiations and made no mention of any new concessions. The remarks, which follow a speech Friday by lead U.S. negotiator Stephen Biegun, represented some of the regime’s most positive remarks about talks since President Donald Trump’s June 30 meeting with Kim.

Biegun’s remarks last week highlighted that almost no progress has been made toward an agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program despite three meetings between Trump and Kim. After their latest meeting, the U.S. said Kim had agreed to begin detailed negotiations by mid-July.

Kim, who has suspended testing of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles while engaged in talks with the U.S., has given Trump until the end of the year to ease up on sanctions choking his state’s anemic economy. At the same time, he has threatened to take a “new path,” if the U.S. doesn’t change course.

Most of North Korea’s recent tests since May have been of a new missile known as the KN-23, which weapons experts said can deliver a nuclear warhead to all of South Korea and parts of Japan and is designed to evade U.S. missile interceptors. There was no indication so far that the missile was a part of the Tuesday test.

(Adds details on North Korea weapons test.)

--With assistance from Jihye Lee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Herskovitz in Tokyo at jherskovitz@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Peter Pae

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