(Bloomberg) — North Korea called the first test of its new submarine-launched ballistic missile a major boost for its national security, saying it strengthens its hand to defend itself against adversaries.
The Thursday report from the official Korean Central News Agency also said that leader Kim Jong Un was absent from the test of its Pukguksong-3 missile a day earlier, a possible indicator that wants to distance himself personally from the move, which came just days before his state is set to resume long-delayed nuclear talks with the U.S.
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The missile was fired in waters of North Korea’s eastern Wonsan Bay, state media said, releasing photos that showed it emerging from the sea.
“It ushered in a new phase in containing the outside forces’ threat to the DPRK and further bolstering its military muscle for self-defense,” the report said, referring to the country by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The South Korean military said the missile was fired near Wonsan just after 7 a.m. Wednesday and flew 910 kilometers (565 miles) in a lofted trajectory into space before falling into the sea. It was the longest-range weapon Kim’s regime has tested since his last intercontinental ballistic missile test in November 2017 — a move that may be designed to increase its bargaining leverage ahead of Saturday’s working-level negotiations.
The first launch of a submarine-based missile in roughly three years also demonstrates Kim’s progress toward a two-pronged nuclear deterrent capable of quick strikes on the U.S. and its allies from mobile launchers on land and hard-to-track submarines. North Korea’s antiquated, meager air force isn’t regarded as a threat in a region that contains the technologically-advanced warplanes of the U.S., Japan and South Korea.
“It creates new complications, and while allied anti-submarine warfare capabilities are robust, the prospect of nuclear weapons flushed out to sea during a crisis could raise the stakes considerably,” said Ankit Panda, a weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists. Kim’s sitting out this test “suggests a degree of concern about his image or perhaps an attempt to calibrate how provocative this looks to the United States,” he said.
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North Korea has lauded what it says is a special chemistry between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, who have met three times since June 2018. Despite their historic meetings that have included smiles and handshakes, there has been almost nothing to show in terms of North Korea’s denuclearization.
Kim has typically been on hand as North Korea has fired off at least 20 missiles in 11 different military tests since breaking a testing freeze in May. Up until Wednesday, all of the missiles have been short range — tests Trump has brushed off as routine and said don’t violate the promise Kim made to him to halt tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear devices.
But the Pukguksong-3 is estimated to have a range of about 1,900 kilometers, making it an intermediate-range ballistic missile that raises the threat of an attack from a submarine on U.S. military assets in Japan and perhaps even the U.S. territory of Guam, which lies about 3,300 kilometers from Wonsan.
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