N. Korean missile tests not intended to spoil future U.S.-N.K. negotiations

Colin Watt, May 29, 2019, 9:21 a.m.

North Korea appears to have taken advantage of the lull in nuclear negotiations with the United States as an opportunity to test missiles because it is difficult to conduct such launches while talks are under way, a former U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday.

Andrew Kim, who retired last year as chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Korea Mission Center, gave the assessment during a security conference in Seoul, referring to the North's missile launches earlier this month.

"What I felt is that they had missiles developed, not confirmed whether properly working or not, did the (testing) at this opportunity as they cannot do it once the talks resume," Kim said in Korean at the 2019 Global Intelligence Summit.

North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the East Sea earlier this month, five days after launching a barrage of projectiles. The North said they were "normal" military drills that any sovereign country has the right to do.

The launches were widely seen as an expression of Pyongyang's frustration with the stalled nuclear talks with the U.S. The negotiating process reached a deadlock after February's summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump ended without an agreement.

But Kim said he sees the launches differently.

"During our discussion, some people said they were trying to shake up the negotiations while not completely spoiling the dialogue mood, but I think they just did what they needed to do at that time," Kim said.

"If the tests were successful, they won't do it again. If they failed, they might do it more for some time," he said. "In my opinion, they may do it one or two more times, and after that, they will come back to the talks."

He said the North should more actively engage in talks if it wants to normalize ties with the U.S.

"They can't make friends if they just communicate only when they want and avoid when they don't want to," he said.

Regarding criticism on the so-called top-down diplomacy, Kim said there is an inevitable aspect to opting for such an approach considering the North's political structure but said there were many working-level contacts in the runup to the summit talks.

"When I was in office, I spent a lot of time with people like (National Intelligence Service) director Suh Hoon and exchanged opinions," he said. "Many people call it top-down, but I don't think it is 100 percent that."

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