(Bloomberg) -- North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles and could be planning even bigger moves, stepping up pressure as it threatens to walk away from sputtering nuclear talks unless President Donald Trump offers up concessions by year end.
The two missiles were fired in rapid succession from North Korea’s east coast Thursday, traveling a distance of about 380 kilometers (240 miles) and reaching a height of about 100 kms, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono told reporters. South Korea’s Defense Ministry provided similar data on the flights and called the launches “regrettable.”
There may be more to come with the brisk movement of vehicles detected this month near an ICBM launch site, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unidentified South Korean official. The movement appears to be associated with an engine test and South Korea is keeping a close eye on the situation, it said.
The latest test came two years to the date since leader Kim Jong Un’s regime last test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting all of the U.S. Kim put a brief freeze on testing after that and then resumed firing with a vengeance from May, sending off about two dozen missiles -- almost all of them short-range ballistic missiles.
“Kim considers Trump as his political hostage and sees himself in a position to dictate the terms of the deal by demonstrating his capability to influence Trump’s chance for re-election,” said Chun Yungwoo, South Korea’s former chief envoy to international nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea.
Kim Jong Un Bolsters Nuclear Threat to U.S. as Trump Talks Stall
North Korea released photos of the Thursday test. Kim, who has been on hand for many of the operations this year, attended the launch and “expressed great satisfaction over the results of the test-fire,” the country’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Friday.
The missiles tested appear to be North Korea’s KN-25, a solid-fuel rocket designed to fired off in rapid succession from a mobile launcher that typically holds about four tubes. A series of shorter-range missile launches in recent months has improved North Korea’s ability to make solid-fuel ballistic missiles that are easier to move, hide and fire than many of its liquid-fuel versions.
“These tests help improve their solid-fuel motors and not only is it good for their short-range systems, it would likely make their long-range missiles quicker and more powerful,” said Melissa Hanham, a weapons expert and deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network.
Kim’s testing freeze ushered in unprecedented diplomacy with Trump, leading to historic meetings in Singapore, Vietnam and the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. But Kim and Trump have little to show for their negotiations, with the U.S. and North Korea unable to agree on what they mean by denuclearization.
Since the talks have started, Kim has been busy churning out fissile material for bombs and developing new missile technology that could make the next big launch of an ICBM even more concerning to Pentagon military planners, weapons experts have said.
Trump has brushed off North Korea’s missile tests, which Japan and others say violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, signaling to Kim that he can continue developing his weapons program as long as he doesn’t fire off another ICBM.
Kim has given Trump until the end of the year to ease up on sanctions choking his state’s paltry economy. In recent weeks his top cadres have been quoted in official media as expressing frustration by what they saw as U.S. inflexibility. The Trump team has said North Korea can only get rewards when it completely gives up nuclear arms -- a move Pyongyang has said would be tantamount to political suicide.
“We, without being given anything, gave things the U.S. president can brag about but the U.S. side has not yet taken any corresponding step,” a spokesman for the State Affairs Commission headed by Kim said earlier this month. He added that the U.S. will face a “greater threat” if it does nothing.
--With assistance from Shinhye Kang and Sophie Jackman.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jon Herskovitz in Tokyo at email@example.com;Jihye Lee in Seoul at firstname.lastname@example.org
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