Kim Jong Un Inspects Submarine That Experts Fear Could Carry Far-Reaching Missiles

President Donald Trump met with Kim last month but has yet to hold any new talks in his effort to rein in North Korea's nuclear program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently inspected a massive new submarine, the country’s state-run news agency said Tuesday, yet another uptick in tensions as President Donald Trump attempts to rein in the country’s ongoing nuclear ambitions.

The North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released photos of Kim visiting a shipyard Tuesday with the large structure behind him. Only part of the submarine can be seen, and no technical aspects were released, as is common with North Korea’s secretive military efforts.

“[Kim] expressed great satisfaction over the fact that the submarine was designed and built to be capable of fully implementing the military strategic intention of the Party under various circumstances,” KCNA’s statement said.

It’s unclear what kind of weapon capabilities the new submarine could have. But several North Korea policy experts said they believed it could be able to carry a nuclear or ballistic missile of some kind, also known as a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), and could be a successor to Pyongyang’s earlier ballistic missile-capable subs.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a submarine factory in an undisclosed location in this undated picture released by North Korea's state-run Central News Agency (KCNA) on Tuesday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a submarine factory in an undisclosed location in this undated picture released by North Korea's state-run Central News Agency (KCNA) on Tuesday.
KCNA / Reuters
KCNA / Reuters

KCNA said the submarine was built under the “special attention” of Kim himself and would go into service soon off the east coast of North Korea. Several experts on North Korean policy say the release is an obvious statement to foreign leaders that Kim is growing impatient with Trump’s efforts at diplomacy.

“That’s a pretty monster prototype, with a saddle with missile tubes that can carry lord only knows,” Vipin Narang, a professor of international relations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told HuffPost in an email. “For now these are just pics. But the fact that the KCNA release is littered with the word ‘strategic’ suggests Kim wants us to believe that is a possible SLBM.”

Narang also noted that Kim’s desire for nuclear weaponry that can be fired from submarines “makes sense from a nuclear strategy perspective.”

Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) “are for responsiveness and range, SLBMs are for survivability. Like a normal nuclear state,” Narang said. “Which is exactly what Kim wants us all to accept and recognize that North Korea is.”

Diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington had largely been at a standstill in recent months, with tensions ramping up between the two countries after a summit in Vietnam failed to produce any agreement in February. But Trump made a last-minute visit to the Demilitarized Zone last month and became the first U.S. president to step foot in North Korea, pledging to reopen lower-level talks with the country. But those discussions have yet to take place.

The White House did not immediately comment on the photos or how Kim’s military plans would affect any negotiations with Trump.

Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, told Reuters the political messaging of the North’s photos was “significant,” noting that it was the first time Kim has personally inspected a military device capable of carrying nuclear weapons since February 2018.

“I take that as an ominous signal that we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline for the implementation of a change in U.S. policy with the utmost seriousness,” Panda told Reuters.

Last week, North Korea suggested it may lift its moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile tests that began about 20 months ago, saying it was unhappy with planned military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea.

“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,” the statement, released by KCNA, said.

Trump has continued to tout his correspondence with Kim, telling reporters on Monday that he had a “very good relationship” with the North Korean leader.

“We just have a very good relationship, and probably they would like to meet, and we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House this week, according to The New York Times. “There was a little correspondence recently. We had very positive correspondence with North Korea. When they’re ready, we’ll be ready.”

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