North Korea Marks Year of Failed Trump Talks With Missiles

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(Bloomberg) -- North Korea launched two unidentified projectiles off its eastern coast, South Korea’s defense ministry said, a move that comes just after the year anniversary of the failed Hanoi summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The projectiles were launched Monday from an area near the North Korean coastal city of Wonsan, the South Korean defense ministry said, adding that it was “monitoring relevant movements and in a state of preparedness.” North Korea’s most recent missile test was on Nov. 28, one of numerous volleys of short-range ballistic missiles launched by the regime last year.

“It can be viewed as a symbolic gesture marking the one-year anniversary of the Trump-Kim Hanoi summit ending in a no-deal,” said Choi Soon-mi, who researches North Korean social and economic affairs at Ajou University’s Institute of Unification. “And they could be using this day as a platform to nudge for either Washington or Seoul to take actions for their demands, such as sanctions relief.”

The projectiles flew about 240 kilometers (150 miles), reaching an altitude of 35 kilometers, South Korea’s defense ministry said, which would be similar to some short-range ballistic missiles fired off in 2019. The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed “strong concern” about the launches after a special meeting of security ministers Monday, saying the tests were likely conducted as part of military drills.

Based on the limited information available, the projectiles appear to be the KN-24 -- a solid-fuel, short-range ballistic missile -- or a multiple rocket launch system, said Melissa Hanham, a weapons expert and deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network. She added that with its low altitude and maneuverability, KN-24 missiles “are difficult to track and intercept.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the launch a serious issue for the international community, adding that the projectiles didn’t fall in his country’s waters.

North Korea has refrained from saber-rattling in recent weeks as it focused its attention toward preventing the new coronavirus from spilling over its borders. But a state media report Saturday detailing a “joint strike drill” may have indicated a shift as Kim looks to turn up the pressure on Trump ahead of the U.S. presidential election.

While the nature of the projectiles fired Monday wasn’t immediately clear, it’s the first such provocation since Kim said Dec. 31 that he was no longer bound by a self-imposed freeze on major weapons tests. Kim spent much of last year threatening to take a “new path” in nuclear talks with the U.S. in 2020, if Trump didn’t make a more appealing offer.

Talks between the two sides have achieved little since Trump walked out of his second summit with Kim in Hanoi on Feb. 28, 2019. The two leaders had months earlier signed a vague pledge in Singapore to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

A flurry of shorter-range missile tests last year showed the regime has since made progress toward developing solid-fuel rockets that are easier to hide, faster to deploy and harder to intercept. Among those was a submarine-launched ballistic missile that flew 910 kilometers (565 miles) into space on Oct. 2, giving it an estimated range of about 1,900 kilometers.

(Updates with comments from weapons expert.)

--With assistance from Peter Pae.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jihye Lee in Seoul at jlee2352@bloomberg.net

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

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