North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a “strike drill” Saturday to test rocket launchers and “tactical guided weapons” to “increase the combat ability” of the nation, state media confirmed Sunday.
Analysts believe one of the weapons was a newly developed short-range ballistic missile, reported Voice of America.
Following earlier reports of the tests, President Donald Trump, oddly, tweeted Saturday: “I am with him,” referring to Kim.
South Korea initially reported Saturday that Pyongyang “fired a number of short-range missiles” northeast from its Hodo peninsula over a period of 20 minutes. The missiles traveled from 45 to 125 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan, according to Seoul. The statement later changed the word “missiles” to “projectiles” because it was unclear what was launched.
Seoul condemned the launch as a violation of an inter-Korean military agreement. “Our military has ramped up surveillance and vigilance in case of a further launch from North Korea,” South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said, according to The Washington Post. “South Korea and the United States are closely coordinating to maintain a full readiness posture.”
The drill tested “large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons,” reported North Korean state news, the Korean Central News Agency. Kim personally “gave an order of firing,” according to KCNA. Photos showed him looking in the air, pointing and smiling.
Kim stressed the strike was needed for combat readiness to “defend the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance” of the nation in the face of threats and invasion, KCNA reported.
If it’s confirmed that the drill tested a short-range ballistic missile, it would be the most significant test since Pyongyang fired an intercontinental ballistic missile in late 2017. The drill did not violate North Korea’s commitment to a moratorium on testing intercontinental missiles.
Though the U.S. was not mentioned by North Korean state news, the drill was widely seen as a goad to America to lift economic sanctions in exchange for a more compliant North Korea. Trump walked out of talks with Kim in Hanoi earlier this year over a disagreement about which sanctions would be lifted against Pyongyang. Kim told his troops Friday that “peace and security are ensured and guaranteed only by powerful strength,” KCNA quoted him as saying.
Trump insisted in his tweet that a deal with North Korea “will happen!”
Kim said last year that he would stop nuclear testing and would no longer launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. Nuclear activity appears to be continuing, according to satellite images of North Korea’s main nuclear site.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday appeared unfazed by North Korea’s recent “strike drill,” claiming the test “didn’t present a threat” to the U.S., South Korea or Japan.
“They were relatively short-range,” Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week” about the test. “We still believe that there’s an opportunity to get a negotiated outcome where we get fully verified denuclearization. ... We hope that this act that he took over the weekend won’t get in the way.”
He declined to comment when asked about reports that North Korea executed several members of its negotiating team following the country’s failed summit with the U.S. in Vietnam in February.
“I don’t have anything to add to that,” Pompeo told ABC’s Jon Karl. “It does appear that the next time we have serious conversations that my counterpart will be someone else, but we don’t know that for sure.”
Though the U.S. is “full speed ahead” in trying to negotiate with North Korea, Pompeo said he doesn’t expect the authoritarian leader to be truthful, breaking from Trump’s claim in February that he takes Kim “at his word.”
“We don’t expect Chairman Kim to tell us the truth,” Pompeo said Sunday. “That’s why we’re going to verify any denuclearization that takes place. ... We’re not going to take anyone’s word for it.”
George Conway, husband of senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway, resurrected in a tweet on Saturday Trump’s vicious insult of Kim early in his presidency when he called him “Little Rocket Man.” Conway referred to Trump again with his new nickname for the president: “DerangedDonald.”
This story has been updated with comments from Pompeo.