This April 10, 2019 picture released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 11, 2019 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang. (Photo by KCNA VIA KNS / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP) / South Korea OUT /
Agence France-Presse

North Korea’s state media said Sunday that leader Kim Jong Un had overseen a rocket and tactical guided weapons test, after the drill Saturday raised concerns Pyongyang was escalating provocations with US nuclear negotiations deadlocked.

Seoul’s defence ministry said Sunday an analysis of the launch indicated Pyongyang had tested “240-mm and 300-mm multiple rocket launchers and a new type of tactical guided weapons with a range of around 70 to 240 kilometres” (45 to 150 miles).

The North last carried out a missile test in November 2017, before a rapid diplomatic rapprochement saw tensions ease on the peninsula and a series of summits.

A return to missile launches would be likely to infuriate US President Donald Trump, but the North’s official KCNA news agency shied away from the term in its report, saying Kim had ordered a “strike drill” involving “long-range multiple rocket launchers” — which are not targeted by UN sanctions resolutions — and unspecified “tactical guided weapons”.

The United States and North Korea have been at loggerheads since the collapse of a Trump-Kim summit in February, when the two sides clashed over sanctions and the extent of Pyongyang’s concessions on its atomic arsenal.

Despite the latest sabre-rattling from Pyongyang, Trump insisted that a breakthrough was possible.

“Kim Jong Un fully realises the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it,” Trump tweeted.

“He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”

The US leader did not elaborate on Kim’s promise.

During Saturday’s drill Kim urged his troops to remember “the iron truth that genuine peace and security are ensured and guaranteed only by powerful strength”, KCNA said.

The state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Sunday carried 16 photos of the weapons test on its front page, including a picture of a grim-looking Kim clutching his binoculars in an observation post as well as several images of projectiles shooting skywards.

Trump proclaimed that the North Korean nuclear threat was over after the two sides’ historic first summit in Singapore in June, when Kim pledged to work towards “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

The two have since disagreed over what that means, but Trump has insisted the leaders remain close even after their follow-up meeting in Vietnam broke up without a deal or even a joint statement, and that Kim would maintain his moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests.

But with negotiations lagging, the North appears to be testing the US while staying below that threshold.

The Saturday drill followed last month’s test-firing of very short-range tactical weapons, and came days after a senior North Korean diplomat chastised US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for making “foolish and dangerous” comments during nuclear talks.

Analysts said Pyongyang appears intent on raising pressure on Washington.

“Kim wants to ensure the world knows it is upset with the US hardline stance on denuclearisation and will not bow to external pressure,” said Scott Seaman of the Eurasia Group”.

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