Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said nuclear talks with North Korea would not be stymied by Pyongyang’s third test in a week of a new ballistic missile that weapons experts say was designed to strike U.S. allies in East Asia.
Pompeo was speaking Friday on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Bangkok, just hours after it appeared North Korea had likely fired a new type of short-range ballistic missile. Officials from the U.S. and South Korea recognized the “flight characteristics” of projectiles similar to those launched July 31.
He said talks between the U.S. and North Korea were ongoing despite Pyongyang for the first time in a decade keeping its top diplomats away from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting. In April, North Korea called for Pompeo to be removed from the nuclear negotiations and accusing him of “fabricating stories like a fiction writer.”
“You should never doubt what we are communicating to North Korea, there are conversations going on even as we speak,” Pompeo said in Q&A with Bloomberg TV’s Haslinda Amin. But he noted the diplomatic road is often a bumpy one. “We are still fully committed to achieving the outcome that we laid out, for a fully, verified denuclearization of North Korea, and to do so through the measure of diplomacy.”
The U.S was concerned with North Korea’s missile tests Friday morning and on Wednesday, he said, stressing that America’s sanctions regime against Pyongyang was the “toughest stance in history.”
North Korea has given President Donald Trump to the end of the year to ease up on sanctions choking its economy and threatened to step up provocations if he doesn’t. But it left the door open for direct talks between the leaders as it has touted a “mysteriously wonderful” chemistry between Kim and Trump, while lambasting Pompeo for “gangster-like” tactics in trying to force it to disarm before it receives any rewards.
Friday’s projectile reached at altitude of about 25 kilometers (15 miles) and flew for about 225 kms (140 miles) at a maximum speed of Mach 6.9, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said. This means it could strike some U.S. military bases in the country a minute or two after launch.
North Korea appears to be testing its KN-23, solid-fuel, short-range ballistic missile, with its first test coming in May followed by another volley that month and three more volleys since July 25.
The KN-23, similar to a Russian Iskander, is capable of carrying nuclear warheads and has been shown to fly as far as 690 kms (430 miles) — putting U.S. allies South Korea and parts of Japan at risk. It’s designed to be mobile, which makes it easier to hide, and fly at a height and speed that makes it hard for U.S. interceptor systems to shoot down, weapons experts have said.
The moves were the latest in a series of escalating efforts by Kim to extract a better offer from Trump before resuming negotiations over his nuclear program. More than a month after Trump and Kim agreed to restart working-level talks after their historic handshake at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas, the chances of meeting seem increasingly remote.
While Trump has repeatedly indicated he won’t let Kim’s launch of short-range ballistic missiles disrupt negotiations, the tests are banned under United Nations sanctions and the weapons threaten South Korea as well as thousands of American troops there.
Trump has said it’s more important that Kim has kept his promise not to test nuclear weapons or an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S., which may be seen by Pyongyang as giving it the green light to keep testing its short-range missiles.
“If what North Korea launched today was the same as Wednesday’s launch, it could be trying to test the South Korea’s military’s ability to analyze and respond, and bring about confusion as well,” said Kim Dong-yub, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
(c) 2019, Bloomberg · Philip J. Heijmans, Natnicha Chuwiruch