North Korea says it tested new weapon, wants Pompeo out of talks
1st public weapons test since 2nd summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump
North Korea has test-fired a "new-type tactical guided weapon," its first such test in nearly half a year, and demanded that Washington remove U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from nuclear negotiations.
The test — which didn't appear to be of a banned mid- or long-range ballistic missile that could scuttle negotiations — allows Pyongyang to show its people it is pushing ahead with weapons development while also reassuring domestic military officials worried that diplomacy with Washington signals weakness.
Separately, Pyongyang's foreign ministry accused Pompeo of playing down the significance of comments by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last week that Washington has until the end of the year to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement to salvage the high-stakes nuclear diplomacy.
Both the demand for Pompeo's removal from the talks and the weapon test point to Pyongyang's displeasure with the deadlocked negotiations.
Kim observed the firing of the unspecified weapon by the Academy of Defense Science on Wednesday, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Kim was reported to have said, "The development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People's Army."
The Associated Press could not immediately and independently verify North Korea's claim of the weapons test, and it wasn't immediately clear what had been tested.
It is North Korea's first public weapons test since the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi ended with no agreement in February.
Since then, the two sides have had little reported contact. There have been worries among observers that the North would turn to weapons testing — which it has largely halted since a series of tests in 2017 had many fearing war — and other actions seen as provocative by outsiders as a way to force Washington to drop its current hard-line negotiating stance and grant the North's demand for a removal of crushing international sanctions.
Pompeo 'talking nonsense'
In a statement issued under the name of Kwon Jong Gun, director general of the American Affairs Department at Pyongyang's foreign ministry, North Korea accused Pompeo of "talking nonsense" and misrepresenting Kim's comments.
During a speech at Texas A&M on Monday, Pompeo said Kim promised to denuclearize during his first summit with President Donald Trump and that U.S. officials were working with the North Koreans to "chart a path forward so we can get there."
"He [Kim] said he wanted it done by the end of the year," Pompeo said. "I'd love to see that done sooner."
The North Korean statement said Pompeo was "misrepresenting the meaning of our requirement" for the negotiations to be finalized by the year's end, and referred to his "talented skill of fabricating stories." It said Pompeo's continued participation in the negotiations would ensure that the talks become "entangled" and called for a different counterpart who is "more careful and mature in communicating with us."
Some in Seoul worry that the North will turn back to actions seen as provocative by outsiders as a way to force Washington to drop its hard-line negotiating stance and grant the North's demand for a removal of crushing international sanctions. A string of increasingly powerful weapons tests in 2017 and Trump's response of "fire and fury" had many fearing war before the North shifted to diplomacy.
Russia announced Thursday that Kim will visit Vladivostok, Russia, later this month for a summit with President Vladimir Putin, but gave no further details.
Putin is to visit China later this month, and some media speculated that he could meet with Kim in Vladivostok, the far eastern port city near the border with North Korea.
Thursday's weapon launch the first known time Kim Jong-un has observed the testing of a newly developed weapon system since last November, when North Korean media said he observed the successful test of an unspecified "newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon." Some observers have been expecting North Korea to orchestrate "low-level provocations," like artillery or short-range missile tests, to register its anger over the way nuclear negotiations were going.
The White House said it was aware of the report of the launch and had no comment. The Pentagon also said it was aware of the reports but had no information to provide at this point.
After the animosity of 2017, last year saw a stunning turn to diplomacy, culminating in the first-ever leaders' meeting between Washington and Pyongyang in Singapore. But fears have since emerged that the progress could be killed by mismatched demands between Washington and Pyongyang over sanctions relief and disarmament.