N. Korea claims their missile tests to be a warning against "warmongers" in S. Korea

Hannah Kris, July 26, 2019, 9:28 a.m.

North Korea said Friday the two short-range ballistic missiles it fired this week were a "solemn warning" against "warmongers" in South Korea, calling for the suspension of Seoul's planned joint military exercises with the United States and its purchases of offensive weapons.

The North did not directly mention the U.S. when reporting on Thursday's missile launches, but experts see the latest provocation as intended to put pressure on Washington and strengthen Pyongyang's negotiating leverage before resuming the two sides' nuclear talks.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guided the "power demonstration fire" on Thursday to warn the South Korean military, which is introducing "ultramodern offensive weapons" into the South and pushing to carry out a military exercise "in defiance of the repeated warnings" from the North, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

"(Kim) emphasized that 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," it said in English.

On Thursday, North Korea launched two missiles from Hodo Peninsula near the North's eastern coastal town of Wonsan. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday both flew around 600 kilometers, modified from an earlier estimate that they traveled 430 km and 690 km, respectively.

The firings came less than a month after Kim held a surprise meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom and agreed to resume their working-level nuclear talks.

South Korean military authorities say the projectiles were similar to Russia's short-range, ballistic missile Iskander.

Pyongyang showed off its version of the Iskander for the first time during a military parade in February 2018, but did not test-fire it until May this year.

After watching the launches, Kim expressed satisfaction over "the rapid anti-firepower capability of the tactical guided weapon system and the specific features of the low-altitude gliding and leaping flight orbit" of the missile, which would be hard to intercept, it said.

"It must have given uneasiness and agony to some targeted forces enough as it intended," the KCNA said.

The report did not directly criticize the U.S. or President Trump in an apparent effort to keep the dialogue mood alive but could have been meant to send a message to Washington as well.

Calling Seoul's introduction of new weapons and military exercises a "suicidal act," the North Korean leader urged South Korean President Moon Jae-in to "come back to the proper stand as in April and September last year" when they held summits.

The KCNA did not elaborate, but the report was apparently referring to the joint military exercise between South Korea and the U.S. slated for next month, and Seoul's plan to bring in stealth fighter jets from the U.S. for deployment through 2021.

North Korea has slammed South Korea over the plan to introduce the fighters, claiming it is intended to invade Pyongyang and constitutes a violation of the inter-Korean agreement to reduce tensions.

"The South Korean chief executive should not make a mistake of ignoring the warning from Pyongyang, however offending it may be," it said, without directly using Moon's name.

Other North Korean media outlets also reported on the missiles test, with the country's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, releasing 12 photos and a front-page article on Kim's guidance.

In the photos, Kim was shown watching the launching moment with binoculars, following the missiles' flight through monitors and clapping with a big smile on his face in an apparent celebration of their successful launch. 

The North's "power demonstration" came ahead of possible working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang. Their negotiations were expected to resume in mid-July following their leaders' Panmunjom encounter, but have not taken place yet.

North Korea's foreign ministry warned last week that the planned combined military drill between Seoul and Washington could affect the prospect of the resumption of the stalled nuclear talks, calling it a rehearsal for invasion.

Following the latest missiles launch, the presidential National Security Council tentatively concluded Thursday that the missiles were "a new kind of short-range ballistic missile" and expressed "strong concerns."

Seoul's relatively rapid response to the North's provocation marked a subtle shift from its previous cautious stance of refraining from directly describing the North's projectile launches as ballistic missile tests banned under U.N. sanctions.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus also urged North Korea to stop provocations and return to talks, adding that all parties should abide by their obligation under U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Still, Washington also appeared to be trying to keep the door open for diplomacy.

Trump said he gets along "very well" with the North Korean leader and that the North hasn't tested missiles other than "smaller ones" in an interview with Fox News held after the missiles test.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said earlier that he expects the working-level talks between the two countries to resume in "a couple of weeks," downplaying the North's move as a negotiating tactic.

Later on Friday, the Combined Forces Command (CFC) said the new type of missiles were not directed at South Korea or the U.S. and "have no impact" on their defense posture. 

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