North Korea says U.S. cruise missile test, military moves ‘dangerous,’ still committed to dialogue: KCNA

FILE PHOTO: A conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile is launched by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) during a test to inform development of future intermediate-range capabilities at San Nicolas Island, California, U.S., August 18, 2019. Scott Howe/U.S. Dept of Defense/Handout via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean spokesman said on Thursday the United States’ recent mid-range cruise missile test and plans to deploy F-35 jets and offensive military equipment around the Korean peninsula were “dangerous” moves that would “trigger a new cold war” in the region.

North Korea remains unchanged in its position to resolve all issues through dialogue and negotiation, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said, but “dialogue accompanied by military threats is of no interest to us,” according to state media KCNA.

“Dangerous and unusual military moves are now on the horizon, which would trigger a new cold war on the Korean peninsula and in the region,” the statement added.

Working-level talks between the United States and North Korea have yet to restart since they were stalled by the failed second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February.

Trump and Kim met again in June at the inter-Korean border and agreed to reopen negotiations.

U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun, who leads working-level talks with North Korea, has been in Seoul since Tuesday after a stop in Japan to discuss the denuclearization of North Korea.

“We are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea,” Biegun said on Wednesday.

The KCNA statement also echoed North Korea’s repeated protest against high-tech weapons being imported by South Korea such as F-35 stealth jets, calling them “grave provocations.”

The Pentagon said on Monday it tested a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of more than 500 km (310 miles), the first such test since the United States pulled out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

North Korea has fired several short-range missiles in recent weeks, citing the need to strengthen its own security.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Peter Cooney)

North Korea fires missiles, derides South Korea’s Moon as ‘impudent’

People visit the statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea, in this undated photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 16, 2019. KCNA/ via REUTERS

By Josh Smith and Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea launched at least two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday, South Korea’s military said, shortly after Pyongyang described South Korea’s president as “impudent” and vowed that inter-Korean talks are over.

The North has protested against joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, largely computer-simulated, which kicked off last week, calling them a rehearsal for war. It has also fired several short-range missiles in recent weeks.

North Korea fired two more short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast on Friday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

Japan’s defense ministry said it did not see any imminent security threat from the latest projectile launch.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initial information indicated at least one projectile was fired by North Korea and appeared to be similar to the short-range missiles fired in previous weeks. Another official said the United States was consulting with South Korea and Japan.

An official at Seoul’s defense ministry said the latest test involved ballistic technology and detailed analysis was under way with the United States with the possibility that the North fired the same type of missiles it used on Aug. 10.

The missiles were launched shortly after 8 a.m. Friday (2300 GMT Thursday) and flew around 230 kms (142 miles) to an altitude of 30 kms (18 miles), South Korea’s JCS said.

The launches have complicated attempts to restart talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators over the future of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Those denuclearization talks have been stalled despite a commitment to revive them made at a June 30 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Earlier on Friday, Pyongyang rejected a vow by South Korean President Moon Jae-in a day earlier to pursue talks with the North and to unify the two Koreas by 2045.

The loss of dialogue momentum between the North and South and the stalemate in implementing pledges made at an historic summit between their two leaders last year was entirely the responsibility of the South, a North Korean spokesman said.

The unidentified spokesman repeated criticism that the joint U.S.-South Korea drills were a sign of Seoul’s hostility toward the North.

“We have nothing to talk any more with the South Korean authorities nor have any idea to sit with them again,” the North’s spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The committee manages relationships with the South. The rival Koreas are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce rather than a peace treaty.

South Korea’s unification ministry called North Korea’s comments about Moon “not in line” with inter-Korean agreements and unhelpful for developing relations between them.

After an emergency meeting of South Korea’s National Security Council held to discuss the launches, officials reiterated that the joint drills are simply an opportunity to evaluate whether South Korea could eventually assume wartime control of the allied forces on the peninsula.

‘IMPUDENT GUY’

Moon and Kim have met three times since April last year, pledging peace and cooperation, but little progress has been made to improve dialogue and strengthen exchanges and cooperation.

“North Korea makes it exceedingly difficult to build trust when it interprets restraint as weakness and looks to exploit divisions within South Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Seoul and Washington should continue to seek working-level talks with North Korea but the allies should also prepare new sanctions and renewed military cooperation if Pyongyang continues to violate United Nations resolutions and threaten its neighbors, Easley said.

The South’s Moon said in a Liberation Day address on Thursday it was only through his policy of Korean national peace that dialogue with the North was still possible.

“In spite of a series of worrying actions taken by North Korea recently, the momentum for dialogue remains unshaken,” Moon said in a speech marking Korea’s independence from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

The North’s spokesman described Moon as an “impudent guy” who is “overcome with fright”.

He said Moon had no standing to talk about engagement with the North because of the ongoing military maneuvers.

“His open talk about ‘dialogue’ between the North and the South under such a situation raises a question as to whether he has proper thinking faculty,” the spokesman said.

It was “senseless” to think that inter-Korean dialogue would resume once the military drills with the United States were over, he said.

However, the spokesman left open the possibility of talks with the United States.

Trump and Kim have met twice since their first summit in Singapore last year and said their countries would continue talks. However, little progress has been made on the North’s stated commitment to denuclearize.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL, Chris Gallagher in TOKYO, and Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Deploying new U.S. missiles would be ‘reckless act’: North Korean media

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper arrives for a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – Any move by the United States to place new ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in South Korea could spark a “new Cold War” and an escalating arms race in the region, North Korean state media said on Wednesday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper this month said he was in favor of placing ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia, a day after the United States withdrew from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia.

“The U.S. pointed out that it is now examining a plan for deploying ground-to-ground medium-range missiles in the Asian region and South Korea has been singled out as a place for the deployment,” North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said.

“It is a reckless act of escalating regional tension, an act that may spark off a new Cold War and arms race in the Far Eastern region to deploy a new offensive weapon in South Korea,” it said in a commentary.

Other senior U.S. officials have said any deployment of such weaponry would be years away.

South Korea’s defense ministry has said there had been no discussion of placing American intermediate-range missiles in the country, and there were no plans to consider the idea.

The KCNA statement also criticized recent moves to improve military sites in South that host U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, which are designed to intercept ballistic missiles.

“It is a hard fact that the deployment of THAAD is pursuant to the U.S. strategy to contain great powers and hold supremacy in Northeast Asia, not the one for ‘shielding’ South Korea from someone’s ‘threat’,” KCNA said.

North Korea’s military has launched a series of missiles in recent weeks to protest what it sees as a military build-up in South Korea, as well as joint military exercises by South Korean and American troops stationed on the peninsula.

The launches have complicated attempts to restart talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators over the future of the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which prompted sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

North Korea increases pressure with latest missile launches

People watch a TV showing a file picture of a North Korean missile for a news report on North Korea firing short-range ballistic missiles, in Seoul, South Korea, August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired missiles for the third time in eight days on Friday, a series of launches that analysts say are designed to improve military capabilities and pressure the United States and South Korea as they seek to restart denuclearization talks.

U.S. officials, who have been hoping to revive the stalled talks with North Korea, played down the launches. The North has been testing missiles despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s June 30 meeting with its leader Kim Jong Un, where they agreed to revive the talks.

The diplomatic process may have some bumps but conversations with North Korea are “going on even as we speak”, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Bangkok, where he is attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

South Korea’s government said the latest projectiles fired by the North appeared to be new short-range ballistic missiles.

They flew 220 km (135 miles) and reached an altitude of 25 km (15 miles), the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in Seoul said.

A U.S. official said U.S. intelligence had detected at least one projectile, and possibly more, that did not pose a threat to North America. U.S. officials said initial information indicated they were similar to two other short-range missile tests by Pyongyang since last week.

North Korean state media said Kim oversaw the firing of what they described as a new large-caliber, multiple-launch guided rocket system on Wednesday. He also observed the launch of a short-range ballistic missile last week.

The launches appear intended to put pressure on South Korea and the United States to stop planned military exercises later this month and offer other concessions.

Kim’s government was assiduously improving military capabilities as well as signaling negotiating demands with the tests, said Leif-Eric Easley, an international relations expert at Seoul’s Ewha University.

“The aim is not only to increase Pyongyang’s ability to coerce its neighbors, another goal is to normalize North Korea’s sanctions-violating tests as if they were as legitimate as South Korea’s defensive exercises.”

‘NO PROBLEM’

Trump was asked at the White House before he set off for a campaign trip to Ohio if he thought Kim was testing him and said the launches did not violate the North Korean leader’s promises.

Trump also said they were short-range missiles. “We never made an agreement on that. I have no problem,” he said.

While Trump says he never made an agreement on short-range missiles, the 15-member United Nations Security Council unanimously demanded in 2006 that North Korea suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and “re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching”.

The U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors in New York on Thursday to discuss the latest missile launches.

Foreign ministers attending ASEAN’s East Asia summit of 18 nations expressed concern that the North’s missile tests were having a negative impact on dialogue, a Thai foreign ministry official said.

After the meeting, representatives of Britain, France and Germany urged North Korea to engage in meaningful talks with the United States and said international sanctions need to be fully enforced until Pyongyang has dismantled its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Pompeo said the U.N. sanctions remained fully in place.

“We’re working with countries all across the world, many in this region, doing great work to enforce those,” he said.

Pompeo also said he was disappointed his North Korean counterpart had canceled a planned trip to the ASEAN meet.

“I think it would’ve given us an opportunity to have another set of conversations,” he said. “I hope it won’t be too long before I have a chance to do that.”

Nuclear envoys from the United States, South Korea and Japan met on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting on Friday, where they were expected to discuss the North’s latest tests and ways to restart working-level talks between the United States and North Korea.

No immediate impact was seen on Japan’s security after the North’s latest launch, Japan’s defense ministry said.

Andrei Lankov, director of Korea Risk Group, a think tank, said the latest missile tests do not mean Pyongyang was no longer interested in talks with the United States.

“On the contrary, the choice of the short-range missile is a sign that, for the time being, Pyongyang remains serious about making a deal with the U.S.,” he wrote in a report for NK News, a website that monitors North Korea.

(Reporting by Josh Smith in SEOUL, Hyonhee Shin and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in BANGKOK, David Brunnstrom, Phil Stewart, Alexandra Alper and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, Michelle Nichols in NEW YORK, and Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. still hopes for talks after latest North Korean missile tests

People watch a TV broadcast of a news report on North Korea firing short-range ballistic missiles, in Seoul, South Korea, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Josh Smith and David Brunnstrom

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea’s latest missile launches did not violate a pledge its leader Kim Jong Un made to U.S. President Donald Trump, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday, but efforts to resume denuclearization talks remained in doubt.

Kim oversaw the first test firing of what North Korean state media called a “new-type large-caliber multiple-launch guided rocket system” on Wednesday.

North Korean television showed rockets launching from a vehicle that had been blurred in photos to obscure its features.

U.S. officials said North Korea appeared to have carried out a new projectile launch early on Friday Korea time, adding that initial information indicated the activity was similar to the other recent tests. The officials said it was unclear how many projectiles had been launched in the latest test.

The launches came days after North Korea tested two short-range ballistic missiles on July 25 and despite a meeting between Kim and Trump on June 30 at which the agreed to revive stalled denuclearization talks.

The tests appeared intended to put pressure on South Korea and the United States to stop planned military exercises and offer other concessions and came as diplomats criss-crossed the region this week in the hope of restarting the talks.

“The firing of these missiles don’t violate the pledge that Kim Jong Un made to the president about intercontinental-range ballistic missiles,” U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said in an interview with Fox Business Network.

“But you have to ask when the real diplomacy is going to begin, when the working-level discussions on denuclearization will begin,” he said.

“We’ve been waiting to hear since June the 30th,” Bolton told the network in a subsequent interview. “We’re ready for working-level negotiations. The president’s ready, when the time is right, for another summit. Let’s hear from North Korea.”

South Korea and Japan were concerned by the launches, “because they’re within range, we think, of this particular missile,” Bolton added without mentioning the tens of thousands of U.S. troops based in both countries.

NUCLEAR ARSENAL

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Vipin Narang said the missile tests were part of the North Korean leader’s approach to diplomacy: “He’s saying it will take more than a photo op to get things moving.”

While Trump and his administration have sought to play down the tests, Narang said they were a stark reminder that every day Washington and its allies fail to secure an agreement North Korea continues to improve and expand its nuclear and missile arsenals.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped talks would start soon, though he “regretted” that a highly anticipated meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho would not take place in Thailand this week.

Ri has canceled a trip to an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference in Bangkok that Pompeo is attending.

“We stand ready to continue our diplomatic conversation,” Pompeo told a news conference in Bangkok, adding that he was optimistic Kim would deploy his team for working-level talks “before too long”.

At the United Nations on Thursday, Britain, France and Germany called on North Korea to engage in “meaningful” talks with the United States and said international sanctions needed to be fully enforced until Pyongyang dismantled its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Their statement came after a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting on the latest launches.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the launches were a reminder of the need to restart denuclearization talks.

China, North Korea’s neighbor and main ally, welcomed the U.S. readiness to restart working-level talks, top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said in Bangkok, following talks with Pompeo.

While China has signed up for U.N. sanctions on North Korea, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Trump in a meeting in Japan last month “to show flexibility and meet the North Koreans half way, including easing sanctions in due course.”

The United States and North Korea have yet to narrow key differences and a summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February collapsed over U.S. demands for North Korea’s complete denuclearization and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.

North Korea has accused Washington of breaking a promise by planning to go ahead with military drills with South Korea this month and has said they could derail dialogue.

It has also warned of a possible end to its freeze on nuclear and long-range missile tests in place since 2017, which Trump has repeatedly held up as evidence of the success of his engagement with Kim.

A senior U.S. defense official said on Wednesday that the United States did not plan to make changes to the drills.

‘FAT TARGET’

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea had fired ballistic missiles on Wednesday that flew about 250 km (155 miles).

Such launches are banned under U.N. resolutions designed to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

North Korean images of the launches appeared to show a type of multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS). Such systems form a major part of North Korea’s conventional arsenal, according to a 2018 assessment by South Korea’s defense ministry.

North Korean media said the tests verified the combat effectiveness of the overall rocket system and Kim predicted: “it would be an inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon.”

The North Korean military has nearly 5,500 MLRS, along with 8,600 field guns, 4,300 tanks, and 2,500 armored vehicles, the ministry said.

(Reporting by Josh Smith in SEOUL and David Brunnstromin WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Cate Cadell, Panu Wongcha-um and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in BANGKOK, David Alexanderand Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, and Michelle Nichols in NEW YORK; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)

North Korea tests more missiles despite efforts at diplomatic solutions

People watch a TV that shows a file picture of a North Korean missile for a news report on North Korea firing short-range ballistic missiles, in Seoul, South Korea, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles early on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, only days after it launched two similar missiles intended to pressure South Korea and the United States to stop upcoming military drills.

The firings follow launches on July 25, North Korea’s first missile tests since leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met on June 30 and agreed to revive stalled denuclearization talks.

The series of missile tests raises the stakes for U.S. and South Korean diplomats crisscrossing the region this week in the hope of restarting talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“North Korea’s actions do not help ease military tensions, nor do they help keep the momentum for talks that are underway,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters in Seoul before leaving for a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok.

Kang urged North Korea to halt the missile launches.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top U.S. North Korea negotiator were also headed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in the Thai capital, where Pompeo said he was holding out hope that U.S. officials could meet North Korean counterparts.

Trump and Pompeo both played down last week’s launches and Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea.

The latest launch comes ahead of newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s first official visit to Seoul, which the Pentagon said on Tuesday was scheduled as part of a tour through Asia in August.

U.S. military forces in South Korea were aware of Wednesday’s launch, a spokesman said.

NEW MISSILES

Wednesday’s launches were from the Wonsan area on North Korea’s east coast, from which last week’s missiles had been fired, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement. It said it was monitoring in case of more launches.

The JCS said later the North had fired ballistic missiles that flew about 250 km (155 miles) and appeared to be similar to those of last week.

The missiles, dubbed the KN-23, are designed to evade missile defense systems by being easier to hide, launch, and maneuver in flight, experts said.

Kim described the two KN-23s launched last week as having a “low-altitude gliding and leaping flight” pattern that would make them hard to intercept.

Analysts said the range and altitude of Wednesday’s flights could indicate a demonstration or test of those capabilities.

South Korean defense minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a defense forum in Seoul that stopping a missile like the KN-23 would be difficult, although South Korea’s missile defense systems would be able to detect and intercept them.

South Korea’s defense ministry also told lawmakers in Seoul it had concluded that a new submarine the North showcased last week was capable of carrying up to three ballistic missiles.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there was no impact from Wednesday’s launch on Japan’s security.

“We will continue to closely cooperate with the United States and others,” Abe told reporters.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan would still seek a summit with North Korea, without conditions, despite the latest launch.

‘BARGAINING CHIP’

Trump and Kim met on June 30 in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas but Pyongyang has since accused Washington of breaking a promise by planning to hold joint military exercises with South Korea next month and warned the drills could derail talks.

Later on Wednesday, state news agency KCNA repeated calls for the United States and South Korea to end their “hostile” joint drills, but did not mention the missile launches.

“It is a prerequisite for improving the inter-Korean relations and ensuring peace on the Korean peninsula to call an overall and permanent halt to anti-North war drills, the root cause of confrontation and war,” it said in a commentary.

Moves by the United States and South Korea to rename the approaching exercises were simply double-dealing that proved “confrontational maniacs remain unchanged in their black-hearted intention to stifle” North Korea by force, it added.

A top South Korean official said last month the drills would mainly involve computer simulations.

North Korea has also warned of a possible end to its freeze on nuclear and long-range missile tests that has been in place since 2017, which Trump has repeatedly upheld as evidence of the success of his engagement with Kim.

Henri Feron, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, said the United States and South Korea may need to consider a temporary suspension of the drills, or propose other measures to reduce tensions.

“I do think there is a high risk that talks will end altogether if Washington and Seoul continue to ignore North Korea’s concern with the exercises,” he said.

A summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February collapsed after they failed to reconcile differences between Washington’s demands for Pyongyang’s complete denuclearization and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.

Trump says he has a good relationship with Kim and Pompeo said on Monday he hoped working-level talks could occur soon.

Pompeo told reporters traveling with him to Asia on Tuesday he did not know when this would happen but hoped U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and his new counterpart could meet soon.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho canceled a planned visit to the ASEAN forum in Bangkok but Pompeo said the Americans were still open to a meeting.

Harry Kazianis, of Washington’s Center for the National Interest think tank, said the latest launches were a clear attempt by North Korea to put pressure on Washington.

Other analysts have said North Korea will be emboldened to press more aggressively for U.S. concessions by Trump’s apparent eagerness to hold up his engagement with Pyongyang as a foreign policy success ahead of his 2020 re-election bid.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in SEOUL, Eric Beech and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Chris Gallagher in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

Fire and fury: With missile launch, North Korea shows ire at neighbor

A view of North Korea's missile launch on Thursday, in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 26, 2019. KCNA/via REUTERS

By Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s blistering criticism of South Korea as he oversaw his latest missile launch this week sparked new questions over the South’s role in mediating a nuclear deal between the North and the United States, analysts said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been one of the most vocal proponents of engagement with the North, using last year’s Winter Olympics to host its delegations and then meeting Kim at summits filled with feel-good imagery, smiles, and hand-holding.

But Moon has been unable to convince Washington to ease sanctions and allow economic cooperation between the neighbors, nor has he persuaded Kim to take major steps toward giving up his nuclear weapons.

On Friday, North Korea called the previous day’s missile launches a warning to South Korean “warmongers” to stop importing weapons and holding joint military drills, with Kim explicitly urging Moon not to ignore them.

Kim may be impatient with what he sees as South Korea overpromising and underdelivering, said Jenny Town, a managing editor at 38 North, a U.S.-based project that studies North Korea.

“The North Koreans have made several statements challenging Moon to move forward, but obviously the situation has left Seoul unable to do so,” she said.

For his part, Moon said there had been “a lot of progress so far in inter-Korean relations and North Korea-U.S. relations, but we still have a long way to go.”

“I think the biggest challenge is national unity,” he added, in comments to a group of Buddhist leaders in Seoul.

North Korea’s growing frustration with its neighbor culminated in the missile tests as a protest against the South’s acquisition of new weapons, such as U.S. F-35 stealth fighters, and its participation in military drills with the United States.

Kim’s comments showed how skeptical North Korea has become regarding the South’s usefulness in talks with the United States, said Shin Beom-chul of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

“To them, the South Korean government is only a nuisance,” he said. “So the message is either ‘Persuade the United States,’ or ‘Stay out of it.'”

Overseeing Thursday’s launches, Kim Jong Un said the new missiles had to be developed to neutralize the weapons being acquired by South Korea and turn them into “scrap iron”.

South Korea’s acquisition of American F-35 stealth fighter jets, the first of which arrived in March, would force its neighbor to develop and test “special armaments” to destroy the aircraft, the North had warned in mid-July.

While Moon has faced some domestic concern that national security could be affected by his North Korean pacts, from a no-fly zone to fewer guard posts and landmines along the heavily fortified border, he has also pushed ahead with plans to modernize and invest in the South’s already large military.

In January the defense ministry unveiled a plan to boost military spending for the next five years by an additional 270.7 trillion won ($228 billion).

Still, some observers believe Kim Jong Un is leaving space for engagement by focusing on South Korea’s military.

“The state media report shows the North was still willing to maintain inter-Korean ties, as they mostly targeted the military forces, not the whole government,” said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute in Seoul.

An official at Moon’s office said it would not comment on the state media report but the government remained committed to working to revive momentum for nuclear talks.

Poor relations have also prompted a show of reluctance by Pyongyang in accepting 50,000 tons of rice South Korea offered as food aid to its impoverished neighbor.

A South Korean official said the government discussed the plan with the World Food Programme, but Pyongyang had recently showed a “negative” attitude, citing the joint military drills.

Attempts to discuss two South Korean sailors detained by the North have also gone unanswered, the official added.

(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Nuclear talks in doubt as North Korea tests ballistic missiles, envoy cancels trip

FILE PHOTO: South Korean people watch a live TV broadcast on a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Seoul, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea test-fired two new short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, South Korean officials said, its first missile test since its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to revive denuclearisation talks last month.

South Korea, which supports efforts by North Korea and the United States to end years of hostility, urged the North to stop acts that are unhelpful to easing tension, saying the tests posed a military threat on the Korean peninsula.

The South’s National Security Council said it believed the missiles were a new type of ballistic missile but it would make a final assessment with the United States.

Firing a ballistic missile would be a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban the North from the use of such technology. North Korea has rejected the restriction as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defense.

North Korea launched the missiles from the east coast city of Wonsan with one flying about 430 km (267 miles) and the other 690 km (428 miles) over the sea. They both reached an altitude of 50 km (30 miles), an official at South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.

Some analysts said the North appeared to have retested missiles it fired in May, but two South Korean military officials said the missiles appeared to be a new design.

The launch casts new doubt on efforts to restart stalled denuclearisation talks after Trump and Kim met at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas at the end of June.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had been expected to meet on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok next week.

But a diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday that Ri had canceled his trip to the conference.

The White House, Pentagon and U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test had no immediate impact on Japan’s security, according to Kyodo News.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who has taken a hard line toward North Korea, made no mention of the launches in a tweet on Thursday after a visit to South Korea. He said he had “productive meetings” on regional security.

South Korea’s nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, had phone calls with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Biegun, and his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, to share their assessment, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing that Beijing had noted the launch, and called for North Korea and the United States to reopen negotiations “as early as possible”.

‘CLEAR MESSAGE’

After Trump and Kim met last month, the United States and North Korea vowed to hold a new round of working-level talks soon, but Pyongyang has since sharply criticized upcoming joint military drills by U.S. and South Korean troops.

North Korea’s foreign ministry accused Washington this month of breaking a promise by holding military exercises with South Korea. On Tuesday, Kim inspected a large, newly built submarine from which ballistic missiles could be launched.

“By firing missiles, taking issue with military drills and showing a new submarine, the North is sending one clear message: there might be no working-level talks if the United States doesn’t present a more flexible stance,” said Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear envoy.

Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the weapons tested on Thursday appeared to be the same as the ones tested in May, which were less of a challenge than long-range missiles but “enough to subtly pressure” Washington.

But the South Korean military believes they may be new because they traveled further. In North Korea’s previous missile test in May, the projectiles flew only 420 km (260 miles) and 270 km (168 miles) though they reached the same altitude of about 50 km (30 miles).

“We’re very cautious because it’s difficult to extend the range within such a short time,” said one military official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that, according to a preliminary analysis, the missiles were similar to those tested in May but showed enhanced capabilities. They cautioned that it would take time before they were certain whether this was a new missile or not.

One of the officials added that North Korea had generally been shortening the time it took for them to prepare missiles to be launched, potentially decreasing the warning time the United States and allies have to detect the launches.

Nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States stalled after a second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February broke down.

Trump has repeatedly lauded the North’s freeze in weapons testing as he is keen for a big foreign policy win as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee, Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin and Jane Chung; David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, and Huizhong Wu in BEIJING; Editing by Jack Kim, Robert Birsel)

Huawei secretly helped North Korea build, maintain wireless network: Washington Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], the Chinese company put on a U.S. blacklist because of national security concerns, secretly helped North Korea build and maintain its commercial wireless network, the Washington Post reported on Monday, citing sources and internal documents.

The Chinese telecommunications giant partnered with a state-owned Chinese firm, Panda International Information Technology Co Ltd., on a number of projects in North Korea over at least eight years, the Post reported.

Such a move would raise questions of whether Huawei, which has used U.S. technology in its components, violated American export controls to furnish North Korea with equipment, according to the Post.

The United States put Huawei on a blacklist in May, citing national security concerns. The move banned U.S. companies from selling most U.S. parts and components to Huawei without special licenses but President Donald Trump said last month American firms could resume sales in a bid to restart trade talks with Beijing.

Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment but said in a statement to the Washington Post it had “no business presence” in North Korea. It was not immediately possible to reach the Panda Group.

The Commerce Department, which also did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has investigated possible links between Huawei and North Korea since 2016 but has not publicly connected the two, the Post said.

Huawei and Panda vacated their Pyongyang office in the first half of 2016, the newspaper reported.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott)

North Korea says nuclear talks at risk if U.S.-South Korea exercises go ahead

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stand at the demarcation line in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The United States’ pattern of “unilaterally reneging on its commitments” is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.

U.S. President Donald Trump revitalized efforts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons last month when he arranged a spur-of-the-moment meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the border between the two Koreas.

Trump said they had agreed to resume so-called working-level talks, stalled since their second summit in February collapsed. The negotiations are expected in coming weeks.

But a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman cast doubt on that, saying the United States and South Korea were pressing ahead with exercises called Dong Maeng this summer, which he called a “rehearsal of war”.

“We will formulate our decision on the opening of the DPRK-U.S. working-level talks, while keeping watch over the U.S. move hereafter,” the spokesman said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The exercises are expected in August.

North Korea has for years denounced military exercises between the United States and South Korea, but in recent months has increased its criticism as talks with Washington and Seoul stalled.

“It is crystal clear that it is an actual drill and a rehearsal of war aimed at militarily occupying our Republic by surprise attack,” the North Korean spokesman said in a separate statement, adding that Trump had reaffirmed at last month’s meeting with Kim that the exercises would be halted.

Trump, in his first meeting with Kim in Singapore in June last year, said he would stop exercises after the two leaders agreed to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to improve ties.

While the main annual South Korean-U.S. exercises have been stopped, they still hold smaller drills.

“Readiness remains the number one priority for USFK,” said Jacqueline Leeker, a spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). “As a matter of standard operating procedure, and in order to preserve space for diplomacy to work, we do not discuss any planned training or exercises publicly.”

She said U.S. and South Korean troops continued to train together but had adjusted the size, scope, number and timing of exercises in order to “harmonize” training programs with diplomatic efforts.

An official at South Korea’s ministry of defense said it did not have immediate comment, but Seoul officials have previously said the drills are defensive in nature.

Since the Singapore summit, North Korea has not tested any nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles, though it tested new short-range missiles in May.

The United States’ decision to forge ahead with drills less than a month after Trump and Kim last met is “clearly a breach” of the two leaders’ agreements made in Singapore last year, and is an “an undisguised pressure” on North Korea, the foreign ministry spokesman said.

“With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S. as well,” he said.

A North Korean nuclear envoy who steered the talks ahead of the failed February summit is alive, a South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday, contradicting a South Korean news report that he had been executed.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Additional reporting by Josh Smith.; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)