Kim Jong Un said Friday that the test of two tactical missiles Thursday was “a solemn warning to the South Korean military warmongers,” a threat that marks the first significant escalation of hostilities in the region in months.
In an editorial carried in the state-run KCNA news agency, North Korea said the test, overseen by Kim, was a response to South Korea’s purchase of advanced weapons and its plans to engage in military exercises with the U.S., an act Pyongyang sees as preparations for an invasion of the North.
“We cannot but develop nonstop super-powerful weapon systems to remove the potential and direct threats to the security of our country that exist in the south,” Kim said, according to state news agency KCNA.
The two missiles Thursday were short-range ballistic missiles fired from near the eastern coastal town of Wonsan into the East Sea, having traveled 375 miles, further than previous similar tests.
South Korea officials told the Yonhap news agency Friday that they believed the missiles were similar in nature to Russia’s Iskander missiles, which fly close to the ground before dropping at a 90-degree angle on their targets to avoid being intercepted.
While the editorial didn’t mention the U.S. or Trump directly, there was a clear message for Washington given its close military ties to South Korea.
The U.S. is supplying Seoul with advanced stealth fighter jets for deployment in 2021 and is slated to take part in annual military exercises with its ally next month, both acts Kim labeled as “suicidal.”
Thursday’s tests came less than a month after the surprise meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in the demilitarized zone that straddles North and South Korea.
At that meeting, Kim promised to return to the negotiating table but while talks were due to start in mid-July, they have so far failed to take place.
However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed Thursday’s tests as nothing more than posturing.
“[Kim] said he’d commit not to conducting nuclear tests, and that he would continue to avoid launching intermediate-range and long-range ballistic missiles,” Pompeo told Fox News. “We’re still going to go sit down and have a conversation about this. North Korea has engaged in activity far worse than this. I think this allows the negotiations to go forward. Lots of countries posture before they come to the table.”
Trump reiterated this viewpoint in his own Fox News interview later on Thursday, saying he gets on “very well” with Kim and that the North hasn't tested missiles other than “smaller ones.”
But experts view the tests as North Korea’s attempt to get Washington to sit up and pay attention.
“North Korea appears to be thinking its diplomacy with the U.S. isn’t proceeding in a way that they want. So they’ve fired missiles to get the table to turn in their favor,” Kim Dae Young, an analyst at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told AP.
Cover: In this Thursday, July 25, 2019, photo provided on Friday, July 26, 2019, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a missile test in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)