North Korea launches ‘unidentified’ projectile

Posted at 5:42 AM, May 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-09 05:42:26-04

(CNN) — North Korea has fired at least one unidentified projectile, South Korea’s military said Thursday, adding yet another complication into the stalled negotiations with the United States and peace talks with South Korea.

The launch took place at 4:30 p.m., in the Sino-ri area in the country’s western Pyongbuk province, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Sino-ri is believed to be home to one of about 20 undeclared missile facilities that Pyongyang operates throughout the country, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Beyond Parallel program.

Thursday’s firing comes less than a week after North Korea tested several new weapons systems, the first confirmed launches of their kind since 2017.

North Korean state media reported that the launches conducted on Saturday were part of a “strike drill” to “check the operating ability of large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons.”

But some weapons experts who analyzed the images of the launch released by North Korea say that Pyongyang may have test-fired a new, more advanced type of short-range ballistic missile — the type of weapon that in theory could carry a nuclear warhead.

Michael Elleman, a missile defense expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies,wrote in a piece for North Korean specialty site 38 North that the weapon bore similarities to a Russian ballistic missile called Iskander.

Regardless of what was fired, analysts worry that an uptick in weapons testing from the North Koreans could impact nuclear negotiations with the United States and South Korea. Talks between the three countries have been on the rocks since a February meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly and without an agreement.

North Korea has particularly vocal in its opposition to recent joint military drills between the US and South Korea. Seoul and Washington previously held large-scale military exercises in the spring,but this year chose to scale those back to “reduce tension” with North Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim agreed at a summit with Kim last year to “make joint efforts to alleviate the acute military tension and practically eliminate the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon and Kim’s meeting was part of a flurry of diplomacy intended to reduce tensions on the Peninsula, as Washington and Pyongyang traded heated threats amid North Korea’s repeated missile and nuclear tests.

North Korea’s test pause is among the most important factors that has enabled negotiations between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington. But a renewed round of missile launches could force the US to adjust course, as Trump has hinted that it could imperil the progress made between the two sides.

“I’m not in a rush, I don’t want to rush anybody, I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy,” Trump said ahead of his February summit with Kim.

Trump’s top diplomat in charge of North Korea, Stephen Biegun, arrived in Seoul yesterday for meetings with his South Korean counterparts.