A man watches a television screen showing showing an image of Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea during a news broadcast on North Korea’s unidentified ballistic missile launch (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

North Korea Says Kim Guided Test of New ‘High-Tech’ Weapon

(Bloomberg) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the test of a new “advanced tactical” weapon -- the first such demonstration in almost a year -- in a pointed signal to the U.S. and South Korea amid stalled nuclear negotiations.

Kim inspected the “successful” test during a visit to North Korea’s Academy of Defense Science, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Friday morning local time. KCNA didn’t provide any details on the type of weapon, whether it was related to Kim’s nuclear program, or when the test occurred.

North Korea Says Kim Guided Test of New ‘High-Tech’ Weapon

“The testing of the high-tech tactical weapon has been carried out successfully, meeting all superior and powerful designing indicators,” KCNA said. “It is a great way to defend the territory of the country with iron barriers and strengthen the combat power of the people’s army.”

The lack of details made it hard to assess whether the test would impact ongoing nuclear talks. References to the weapon as “tactical” -- as opposed to “strategic” -- would seem to exclude a ballistic missile launch.

One U.S. official said the initial report doesn’t seem overly provocative, noting the lack of keywords connecting the test to North Korea’s nuclear program. The response from South Korea was also muted, with Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Eugene noting that the regime had previously publicized seven military activities involving Kim this year. South Korea’s defense ministry said only that officials were reviewing the report.

The weapon test comes after U.S. and South Korean marines resumed small-scale exercises that North Korean state media said Friday violated a new military pact between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim. The announcement ensures North Korea will stay at the top of the agenda as world leaders, including Moon, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, gather for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summits in Papua New Guinea this week.

What we know about Kim’s new mystery weapon:
  • It’s “ultramodern” and a “newly developed tactical weapon.”
  • It will “increase” North Korea’s defense capabilities and “fighting capacity.”
  • The project appears to have been initiated by Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, whom KCNA said “had chosen and personally directed” its development. 

The weapons test is the first known to have been observed by Kim since last November, when he oversaw the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the entire U.S. mainland. The move raises new questions about the prospects for nuclear talks, since President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted Kim’s decision to halt tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles as evidence of his success.

“We haven’t seen details on the missile test, but if it’s tactical, it’s not a direct threat to U.S. territory,” said Soo Kim, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who’s now a North Korea specialist for the Center for Naval Analyses. “It’d be more of a threat to South Korea.”

Still, the test follows growing North Korean complaints about the international sanctions regime against the country, including a government think tank’s threat earlier this month to resume nuclear development efforts if the measures aren’t lifted. Kim denounced the economic blockade as “vicious” and his envoys last week cancelled planned talks with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in New York City.

The Trump administration has played down the suggestion that tensions are rising, saying a second summit with Kim is on track for next year. U.S. officials including Trump also brushed off a Washington think tank’s report showing that North Korea was maintaining several undeclared missile bases.

“We fully know about the sites being discussed, nothing new - and nothing happening out of the normal,” Trump said in a tweet Tuesday. “I will be the first to let you know if things go bad!”

On Thursday, Pence told NBC News that the U.S. would continue to pressure North Korea and keep sanctions in place while seeking a concrete plan to achieve denuclearization.

“It will be absolutely imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question, identifying all the development sites, allowing for inspections of the sites and the plan for dismantling nuclear weapons,” Pence said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.