Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Kim's latest weapons test shows growing frustration with Trump

First deemed as 'missiles' South Korea later downgraded them to simply 'projectiles'

People in South Korea watch TV news reports of North Korean projectile tests. AP
People in South Korea watch TV news reports of North Korean projectile tests. AP

North Korea fired numerous short-range projectiles off its eastern coast, South Korea said, in Kim Jong Un’s latest and most provocative signal of frustration with talks with US President Donald Trump.

The significance of the test was difficult to assess as South Korea revised its account of the nature and scale of the weapons discharged from the eastern port of Wonsan just after 9 am Saturday local time. After first calling them “missiles,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff later changed its description to “projectiles,” saying greater clarity would require more analysis.

The details are key since Mr Trump has cited Mr Kim’s self-imposed freeze on missile and nuclear weapons tests to support his decision to continue negotiations with the North Korean leader. South Korea’s descriptions of the incident suggested shorter-range rockets or artillery that would be less likely for the US to interpret as a violation of Mr Kim’s pledge to refrain from testing.

“We are aware of North Korea’s actions tonight. We will continue to monitor as necessary,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

“Missiles are projectiles, but South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff might be using ‘projectile’ to imply an unguided rocket, like one of North Korea’s older rocket artillery systems,” said Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. “This could also be a politicized attempt to make the word ‘missile’ not so prominent, in case that creates the kind of news cycle that Trump doesn’t want.”

The weapons test was nonetheless Mr Kim’s most significant provocation since he launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017, declared his nuclear weapons program “complete” and opened talks. Mr Kim has expressed increasing frustration since Trump refused his demands for sanctions relief and walked out of their second summit in Hanoi in February.

“This is an expected move from North Korea – not too provoking, but urging the U.S. to take a slightly stronger stance than their initial one,” said Kim Hyun-wook, of the Korean National Diplomatic Academy.

Updated: May 4, 2019 05:03 PM

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