Putin says Russia will make new missiles, warns of arms race

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 5, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Vladimir Soldatkin

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia would produce missiles that were banned under a landmark Cold-War era nuclear pact that ended last month, but that Moscow would not deploy them unless the United States did so first.

Speaking at an economic forum in Russia’s Far East, Putin said Moscow had urged the United States to de-escalate a spiraling arms race between the former Cold War foes, but that Washington had not responded.

The Russian leader said he was concerned by U.S. talk of deploying missiles in Japan and South Korea, a deployment he said would cover parts of Russian territory.

Tensions over nuclear arms control have been rising after Washington formally pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) pact last month accusing Russia of violating it, allegations Moscow denied.

Last month the United States tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit a target more than 500 km away, a test that would have been prohibited under the INF.

The pact banned land-based missiles with a range of 310-3,400 miles, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

“…Of course we will produce such missiles,” Putin told an economic forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok. He repeated a pledge by Moscow not to deploy any new missiles unless the United States does so first.

“We are not happy about the fact that the head of the Pentagon said that the United States intends to deploy them in Japan and South Korea, this saddens us and is a cause for certain concern,” Putin said.

Putin said he offered U.S. President Donald Trump in a recent phone call the chance to buy one of the hypersonic nuclear weapons Moscow is developing. He said Trump spurned the offer and replied that Washington was making its own.

Putin said he feared that an arms race could spread into space and that Washington could develop a new space weapon.

(Additional reporting by Andrey Kuzmin, Maria Vasilyeva; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Japan, South Korea agree on need for dialogue to resolve feud on wartime labor and Fukushima

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono pose for photo ahead of the ninth trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting among China, South Korea and Japan at Gubei Town in Beijing, China, 21 August 2019. Wu Hong/Pool via REUTERS

By Hyonhee Shin and Ami Miyazaki

TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) – Japan and South Korea on Wednesday agreed on the need for dialogue to resolve a feud over compensating Korean wartime workers that has spilled into trade and put a deep chill on ties between Washington’s two biggest Asian allies.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, speaking after talks with South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha, said both sides shared that view over the dispute, which is a bitter legacy of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula.

“In that sense, I want to firmly make progress towards resolving (this matter),” Kono said outside the Chinese capital of Beijing, in comments carried live on Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

“I think the fact that we … were able to talk in this difficult situation could lead to big progress towards resolving this problem,” Kono said. “I want to stay in close touch and continue to talk.”

A South Korean official said both sides reiterated their positions but the meeting was meaningful in restoring diplomatic dialogue and reaffirming the need to keep talking, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.

Relations soured after the South Korean Supreme Court ordered some Japanese firms to compensate Korean wartime workers last October, a move strongly condemned by Tokyo, which says the matter was resolved by a 1965 treaty normalizing ties.

The feud has spilled over into trade, after Japan tightened export controls on materials vital to South Korean chipmakers and then dropped Seoul from a list of countries eligible for fast-track exports, prompting South Korea to take a similar step towards Japan.

The number of South Korean tourists visiting Japan fell last month to its lowest in nearly a year, amid a far-reaching boycott of Japanese products and services, from cars to beer and tours.

Kang again urged that Japan’s tightened controls be eased, and relayed concerns about media reports and international environmental groups’ claims that Japan plans to release contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, Yonhap said.

Kono also said Japan wanted Seoul and Tokyo to maintain a military intelligence-sharing pact that could expire if South Korea decides not to roll it over this week.

“This is an important framework for the United States, Japan and South Korea and … should be maintained,” Kono said, adding that he had discussed the intelligence pact with Kang.

Though Kang declined to comment after the meeting whether South Korea would renew the deal, Kim Sang-jo, policy chief of President Moon Jae-in, said on Wednesday that Seoul would continue consideration “until the last minute”.

Kono urged both China and South Korea to scrap their import curbs on produce from areas around Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster site, where three reactors suffered melt downs after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Seoul said on Wednesday it would double radiation testing of some Japanese food imports, for fear of contamination from the Fukushima plant.

An official of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said Japanese food products were safe and increased radiation testing was unnecessary.

(Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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)

‘We will make them pay’: North Korea launches missiles, condemns U.S.-South Korea drills

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing two unidentified projectiles, in Seoul, South Korea, August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Josh Smith and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired missiles into the sea off its east coast for the fourth time in less than two weeks, South Korea said on Tuesday, as Pyongyang warned that hostile moves against it “have reached the danger line.”

The North, criticizing the U.S.-South Korean drills and their use of high-tech weapons, has fired a series of missiles and rockets since its leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed at a June 30 meeting to revive stalled denuclearization talks.

North Korea has said it is committed to diplomacy and it will wait until the end of the year for the United States to soften its policy of sanctions and political pressure over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

But if Washington and Seoul disregard North Korea’s repeated warnings, “we will make them pay (a) heavy price,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement released through state news agency KCNA.

Trump has played down the tests by saying they did not break any agreement he had with Kim but the talks have yet to resume. Analysts believe the tests are designed both to improve North Korean military capabilities and to pressure Washington to offer more concessions.

“Part of what’s happening now is that North Korea is expressing frustrations with a general lack of progress on inter-Korean agenda while increasing leverage in U.S.-North Korea negotiations by demonstrating how its programs could and will continue to advance,” said Jenny Town, managing editor at 38 North, a website that tracks North Korea.

MULTIPLE MISSILE LAUNCHES

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles were fired from near Kwail on North Korea’s west coast, about 125 km (80 miles) southwest of Pyongyang, in South Hwanghae province early on Tuesday. They were the fourth set of launches since July 25.

The missiles flew about 450 km (280 miles) and reached an altitude of 37 km (23 miles), the JCS said. U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies deemed they had similar flight characteristics to the short-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea on July 25, it said.

Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, said the latest launch area was significant because the flight path of 450 km meant that all of South Korea was in range of such missiles.

“It becomes difficult to detect the origin of the launch in advance because it is capable of launching a missile from most anywhere in North Korea, targeting all of South Korea,” he said.

South Korea’s defense ministry said on Tuesday the missile launch went against the spirit of easing tension on the Korean peninsula.

A United Nations report said on Monday Pyongyang has continued to enhance its nuclear and missile programs and used cyberattacks to take in $2 billion to fund the development.

The missile tests represent military advances, as well as help Kim strengthen his bargaining power with the United States, said Van Jackson, a former Pentagon official focused on Korea.

“Kim believes he doesn’t need to compromise to get what he wants, doesn’t need to conduct serious negotiations at the working level because he has recourse to Trump, and doesn’t need to restrain any of his missile testing or actions abroad as long as he doesn’t test an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Jackson said.

‘DO US HARM’

The launches on July 25 were the first since Trump and Kim met at the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas on June 30. What was agreed at that meeting is now under scrutiny.

The North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said that the North remained committed to resolving issues through dialogue, but that the United States and South Korea’s joint military drills violate a pledge made by Trump to Kim.

Pyongyang “will be compelled to seek a new road as we have already indicated” if South Korea and the United States continue with hostile military moves, he said.

The arrival of new, U.S.-made F-35A stealth fighters in South Korea, the visit of a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine to a South Korean port, and U.S. tests of ballistic missiles are among the steps that have forced North Korea to continue its own weapons development, the spokesman said.

“The U.S. and South Korean authorities remain outwardly talkative about dialogue,” he said. “But when they sit back, they sharpen a sword to do us harm.”

South Korean media reported that U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises had started on Monday. A senior South Korean official said previously the drills would mainly involve computer simulations.

A JCS spokesman told a regular news briefing on Monday the allies were preparing for a joint exercise in the second half of the year but would not confirm the name of the drill or whether it had already started.

The testing of short-range missiles by North Korea is banned by a 2006 United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that North Korea suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program.

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

(Reporting by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON and Chris Gallagher in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

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)

Russia, South Korea trade conflicting claims over alleged airspace intrusion

A Russian A-50 military aircraft flies near the disputed islands called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, in this handout picture taken by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan July 23, 2019. Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/HANDOUT via REUTERS

By Maria Kiselyova and Hyonhee Shin

MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) – Russia’s embassy in Seoul on Wednesday said that Moscow had not apologized for an alleged airspace violation the previous day after South Korea said that a Russian attache had expressed “deep regret” and blamed malfunctioning equipment.

A Russian military aircraft entered airspace near a group of islets claimed by both South Korea and Japan on Tuesday, during a long-range joint air patrol with Chinese jets, according to South Korea and Japan, which both scrambled fighter jets in response.

South Korean warplanes fired flares and hundreds of warning shots near the Russian aircraft, and the incident triggered a round of diplomatic protests by countries in the region.

An unidentified Russian military attache in Seoul told South Korean officials on Tuesday that the plane appeared to have “entered an unplanned area due to a device malfunction”, said Yoon Do-han, South Korea’s presidential press secretary.

“Russia has conveyed its deep regret over the incident and said its defense ministry would immediately launch an investigation and take all necessary steps,” Yoon said.

“The officer said such a situation would have never occurred if it followed the initially planned route.”

Hours later, Russia’s embassy in Seoul said there had been no apology.

“The Russian side did not make an official apology,” the embassy in Seoul said, adding it had noted many inaccuracies in the comments by South Korea, Interfax reported.

The incident comes at a delicate time for a region that has for years been overshadowed by hostility between the United States and North Korea and has recently seen a flare-up in tension between South Korea and Japan.

Russia’s public statements on the issue have not mentioned any technical problems, nor has Russia announced any investigation or acknowledged a violation of South Korean airspace.

Yoon said in a later briefing that after the attache admitted a possible mistake and expressed regret, which was taken as Moscow’s official position, Russia “altered” its account by sending a document stating that it did not violate any airspace.

Russia also accused South Korean fighter jets of threatening the safety of Russian aircraft by interfering with their flight and failing to communicate, Yoon said.

Seoul’s defense ministry said Russia was “distorting the truth” and it had evidence to support its claim.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense did not respond to a request to clarify the conflicting accounts.

“The document says that they might take a responsive measure if similar flights by the South Korean Air Force recur,” Yoon said.

An official at the defense ministry earlier told reporters it believed the intrusion could not have resulted from a system error.

He did not elaborate, but another official told Reuters that the two countries plan to hold working-level talks on Thursday in Seoul to clarify what happened.

While troops and naval ships from Russia and China have taken part in joint war games before, they have not conducted such air patrols in the Asia-Pacific region together, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense.

China’s defense ministry said on Wednesday that China and Russia did not enter the airspace of any other country during their joint patrols on Tuesday.

South Korea and Japan scrambled fighter jets because both claim sovereignty over the disputed islets called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

The two U.S. allies are mired in a deepening political and trade dispute, which fanned concerns that it might undercut three-way security cooperation to fend off North Korea’s nuclear threats.

The incident also coincided with the visit of U.S. national security adviser John Bolton to South Korea.

Bolton and his counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, discussed the suspected airspace breach during a meeting on Wednesday and vowed close consultations in case of more such incidents, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith in Seoul, and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

First Russian-Chinese air patrol in Asia-Pacific draws shots from South Korea

A Russian TU-95 bomber flies over East China Sea in this handout picture taken by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan July 23, 2019. Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/HANDOUT via REUTERS

By Andrew Osborn and Joyce Lee

MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) – Russia carried out what it said was its first long-range joint air patrol in the Asia-Pacific region with China on Tuesday, a mission that triggered hundreds of warning shots, according to South Korean officials, and a strong protest from Japan.

The flight by two Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers and two Chinese H-6 bombers, backed up according to Korean and Japanese officials by a Russian A-50 early warning plane, marks a notable ramping-up of military cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.

That is something likely to worry politicians from Washington to Tokyo and could complicate relations and raise tension in a region that has for years been overshadowed by hostility between the United States and North Korea.

While troops and naval ships from Russia and China have taken part in joint war games before, they have not, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defence, conducted such air patrols in the Asia-Pacific region together until Tuesday.

“The joint patrol was carried out with the aim of deepening Russian-Chinese relations within our all-encompassing partnership, of further increasing cooperation between our armed forces, and of perfecting their capabilities to carry out joint actions and of strengthening global strategic security,” the ministry said in a statement.

Seoul and Tokyo, who both scrambled jets to intercept the Russo-Chinese mission, accused Russia and China of violating their airspaces, an allegation Moscow and Beijing denied.

South Korean warplanes fired hundreds of warning shots towards the Russian A-50 military aircraft, defense officials in Seoul said, saying it had entered South Korean airspace.

It was the first time a Russian military aircraft had violated South Korean airspace, an official at the South Korean Ministry of National Defence said in Seoul.

The Russian and Chinese bombers had entered the Korea Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) together early on Tuesday, the South Korean defense ministry said.

The separate Russian A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft later twice violated South Korean airspace over Dokdo – an island that is controlled by Seoul and claimed by both South Korea and Japan, which calls it Takeshima – just after 9 a.m. (midnight GMT Monday), according to the South Korean military.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said it did not recognize South Korea’s KADIZ, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the area was not territorial airspace and that all countries enjoyed freedom of movement in it.

South Korean fighters did not fire any warning shots toward Russia’s two bombers, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement, which made no mention of any A-50 aircraft.

It accused the two South Korean F-16 fighter planes of carrying out “unprofessional maneuvers” and of crossing the path of the Russian bombers and not communicating with them.

“It was not the first time that South Korean pilots tried unsuccessfully to prevent Russian aircraft from flying over the neutral waters of the Sea of ​​Japan,” the Russian ministry said.

If the Russian pilots had felt any threat to their safety, their response would have been swift, it added.

A South Korean defense ministry spokesman did not directly address the Russian accusation of reckless behavior but said that South Korea had never said the Tu-95 bombers had violated its airspace.

South Korea’s top security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, lodged a strong objection with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, asking the council to assess the incident and take appropriate action, South Korea’s presidential office said.

“We take a very grave view of this situation and, if it is repeated, we will take even stronger action,” Chung said, according to South Korea’s presidential office.

“TACTICAL ACTION”

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry summoned Russian Deputy Chief of Mission Maxim Volkov and Chinese Ambassador Qiu Guohong to lodge a stern protest and strongly urge them to prevent a recurrence, said ministry spokesman Kim In-chul.

Separately, Japan, which said it had also scrambled fighter aircraft to intercept the Russian and Chinese planes, lodged a complaint with both South Korea and Russia over the incident, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Tokyo criticized South Korea for taking action against a Russian plane over what Japan says is its airspace.

“In light of Japan’s stance regarding sovereignty over Takeshima, the fact that the South Korean military aircraft carried out warning shots is totally unacceptable and extremely regrettable,” Suga told reporters.

The South Korean jets loosed about 360 rounds of ammunition during the incident, an official at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

“The South Korean military took tactical action including dropping flares and firing warning shots,” the South Korean Defence Ministry said.

A South Korean defense official told Reuters that the Russian aircraft did not respond in any threatening way.

It left South Korean airspace but then entered it again about 20 minutes later, prompting the South Koreans to fire more warning shots.

(Additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul, by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Makiko Yamazaki and Tim Kelly in Tokyo, Cate Cadell in Beijing, and Maria Kiselyova and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Paul Tait and Mark Heinrich)