KCNA via REUTERS
- President Donald Trump has touted what he describes as a friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un even with North Korea continuing to test missiles.
- Trump on Friday downplayed the recent testing, saying that even though the short-range missiles North Korea had been firing off violated UN resolutions they did not violate an agreement between him and Kim.
- Expert observers have suggested that some of the weapons North Korea has been testing appear to be designed to defeat air-and-missile defense systems in South Korea.
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President Donald Trump called Kim Jong Un a "friend" in a tweet Friday morning while downplaying North Korea's latest missile tests. His response is a long way from Trump's heated "fire and fury" rhetoric from two years ago.
North Korea has tested a handful of short-range missiles and guided rockets over the past week, conducting three tests in eight days, in what many observers have seen as a sign North Korea wants to keep up pressure on the US to ease sanctions.
Responding to these tests, Trump tweeted that these missiles did not violate an agreement between him and the North Korean leader, who the president has met with in person three times.
"Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint me with a violation of trust," Trump wrote. "He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to, and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump!"
The president acknowledged that the tests were a violation of the UN resolutions prohibiting North Korea from engaging in this type of weapons testing, but Trump does not appear particularly concerned by the latest developments despite some experts who warn that North Korea could use these missiles in a preemptive strike on South Korea, a key US ally.
Speaking with the press Thursday, Trump said: "I have no problem. These are short-range missiles."
A few days earlier, he told members of the media that he was not troubled by the testing. "We'll see what happens, but they are short-range missiles and many people have those missiles." Trump has called the weapons "very standard missiles."
Observers suggest that Trump's calm response to North Korea's tests may be emboldening North Korea to continue testing. Indeed, the president's rhetoric essentially gives North Korea the green light to continue UN-banned testing below a certain threshold. Trump has previously signaled that North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missiles are his primary concern.
The short-range weapons North Korea has been testing this past week appear at least in part to be the same systems it tested back in May, specifically a North Korean version of Russia's Iskander missile designated the KN-23 by the US military.
These solid-fueled missiles are believed to pose a challenge to air-defense systems in South Korea, where about 28,000 American troops are based.
North Korea is "developing a reliable, operable missile that can defeat missile defenses and conduct a precision strike in South Korea," Grace Liu, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Reuters in May.
Expert observers suspect that some of the weapons North Korea has been experimenting with could be used to skirt the THAAD and Patriot batteries in place to defend South Korea.
Melissa Hanham, another well-known missile expert, told Reuters in May that the types of weapons North Korea was testing, weapons deemed by Trump to be less important than the intercontinental ballistic missiles the country was building and testing in 2017, were the types of weapons "that will start the war."