- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2019

North Korea on Wednesday tested a powerful new “tactical guided weapon,” according to state-run media in Pyongyang, boasting that the missile will dramatically increase the country’s “combat power” and ability to defend itself from attack.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was on hand to watch the test, which appears to have involved a non-nuclear weapon. State-run media did not reveal detail on the weapon other than to say it marked “an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army.”

Regional analysts say the test should serve as a wake-up call to the West and a reminder that even if Pyongyang ultimately does end its nuclear-weapons program, it still possesses highly powerful weapons.

The test comes less than two months after Mr. Kim met President Trump in Hanoi for their second face-to-face summit aimed at securing a lasting denuclearization deal. The meeting ultimately ended with no deal after the North Koreans demanded full relief from U.S. and United Nations economic sanctions before fully dismantling their nuclear program.

In the weeks since, observers have kept a close eye on weapons facilities inside the reclusive country. Wednesday marks the first major test since the Hanoi summit and suggests that Pyongyang, frustrated by the Trump administration’s hard line on denuclearization, is taking a more provocative stance.

North Korean media said that Mr. Kim not only observed but personally guided the test.

“He mounted an observation post to learn about a plan of the test-fire of the new-type tactical guided weapon and guided the test-fire,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.

“After watching the power of the new-type tactical guided weapon, he pointed out that our national defence scientists and workers in the field of the munitions industry performed another great work in increasing the country’s defence capabilities,” the report continued, “saying with pride that he had always been struck with admiration at them in the period of developing strategic weapon and our scientists, technicians and workers are, indeed, great and there is no weapon impossible to make when they are determined to do.”

The White House had no comment on the test.

Specialists say the move is a strategic play by North Korea to extract concessions from the Trump administration.

“Chairman Kim Jong Un never promised to stop testing all weapons in his military arsenal, just nuclear weapons and ICBMs that have the potential to hit the U.S. homeland,” said Harry Kazianis, Korean studies director at the Center for the National Interest.

“Kim is trying to make a statement to the Trump administration that his military potential is growing by the day, and that his regime is becoming frustrated with Washington’s lack of flexibility in recent negotiations,” he said.

Wednesday’s test is the latest in a series of moves suggesting Mr. Kim and his regime are losing patience with negotiations.

Earlier this week, Mr. Kim visited the North Korean Air and Anti-aircraft Force headquarters, where he personally observed flight drills.

And on Tuesday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said it observed new activity at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility, including the presence of five specialized railcars believed to be used to move radioactive material. Taken together with Wednesday’s test, the new activity indicates North Korea is once again intent on ramping up its missile programs.

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