North Korean leader oversaw test of ‘multiple launch guided rocket system,’ state media says

In this undated file photo released May 10, 2019 by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observes a missile launch.


By KIM GAMEL | Stars and Stripes  | Published: July 31, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the test of a new guided multiple rocket launcher system, state media reported Thursday, a move that could raise the threat to U.S. military bases and other targets in the South.

The report in the state-run Korean Central News Agency contradicted the assessment by South Korea’s military, which said the North test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its eastern coast on Wednesday.

KCNA said Kim had guided the test-firing of a newly developed “large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system.”

The test confirmed that the “guided ordnance rocket reached the numerical values of its design, and verified the combat effectiveness of the overall system,” KCNA said, adding that Kim repeatedly expressed satisfaction over the results.

“He said that it is very great and it would be an inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon,” it said.

The report didn’t specify any targets, but North Korea is known to have hundreds of thousands of soldiers and massive artillery poised near the border, which is just 35 miles north of Seoul.

Some 28,500 American troops and thousands of family members and civilian employees are stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North since their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

The launch also came less than a week after the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles that it said served as a “solemn warning” to the South against joining the United States in joint military exercises and purchasing advanced jet fighters.

Photos released hours after Thursday’s statement showed Kim watching a fiery rocket taking off, although the launcher was blurred out to make it difficult to determine characteristics.

The recent activity raises pressure on the U.S. as it tries to restart talks aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.

It also shows that North Korea has continued with weapons development despite diplomatic engagement that began last year with summits between Kim and President Donald Trump as well as inter-Korean meetings.

North Korea is likely angling to increase its leverage in negotiations while expressing anger over planned joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and continued sanctions, experts said.

South Korea’s military, meanwhile, said it maintained its earlier conclusion that a new type of short-range ballistic missile had been fired.

“The final determination of the exact type of missiles will be made after South Korean and U.S. authorities wrap up a comprehensive joint analysis,” Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Col. Kim Jun-rak said during a briefing.

South Korean military officials initially said Wednesday that “several unidentified projectiles” had been fired. They later revised that to say that two missiles flew about 155 miles from the town of Wonsan and reached an altitude of less than 20 miles before splashing into the sea.

Last Thursday, the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the same area that South Korean military officials later said were a new type of weapon similar to Russia’s Iskander.

The Joint Chiefs said those missiles flew more than 370 miles and reached an altitude of 30 miles, which experts said was likely designed to evade U.S. and South Korean defense systems on the divided peninsula.

So far, the missile tests have not drawn a strong reaction from the Trump administration. The president dismissed concerns about last week’s launches, calling them “smaller missiles” and noting the North didn’t say it was “a warning to the United States.”

Trump insists he maintains a good relationship with the North Korean leader. The pair has met three times in just over a year, most recently on June 30 in a surprise encounter on the heavily fortified border that divides the Korean Peninsula.

The launches, along with the firing of two short-range ballistic missiles in early May, have broken a lull in such activity since Kim pledged to suspend intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday that the recent launches didn’t break that moratorium but acknowledged the North has not agreed to set a date for the resumption of nuclear negotiations.

“The firing of these missiles don’t violate the pledge that Kim Jong Un made to the president about intercontinental range ballistic missiles,” Bolton said Wednesday in an interview with the Fox Business Network.

“But you have to ask when the real diplomacy is going to begin, when the working-level discussions on denuclearization will begin,” Bolton said.

He stressed that Kim had agreed to resume talks during his impromptu meeting with Trump on June 30 in the truce village of Panmunjom.

“We’re still waiting to hear from North Korea,” he said.

North Korea is banned from using ballistic technology under U.N. Security Council resolutions with sanctions aimed at stopping the communist state’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

Twitter: @kimgamel

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